Fractures & Trauma
A bone fracture is a medical condition in which a bone is cracked or broken. It is a break in the continuity of the bone. While many fractures are the result of high force impact or stress, bone fracture can also occur as a result of certain medical conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis.
The word “Fracture” implies to broken bone. A bone may get fractured completely or partially and it is caused commonly from trauma due to fall, motor vehicle accident or sports. Thinning of the bone due to osteoporosis in the elderly can cause the bone to break easily. Overuse injuries are common cause of stress fractures in athletes.
Types of fractures include:
- Simple fractures in which the fractured pieces of bone are well aligned and stable.
- Unstable fractures are those in which fragments of the broken bone are misaligned and displaced.
- Open (compound) fractures are severe fractures in which the broken bones cut through the skin. This type of fracture is more prone to infection and requires immediate medical attention.
- Greenstick fractures: This is a unique fracture in children that involves bending of one side of the bone without any break in the bone.
Our body reacts to a fracture by protecting the injured area with a blood clot and callus or fibrous tissue. Bone cells begin forming on the either side of the fracture line. These cells grow towards each other and thus close the fracture.
The objective of early fracture management is to control bleeding, prevent ischemic injury (bone death) and to remove sources of infection such as foreign bodies and dead tissues. The next step in fracture management is the reduction of the fracture and its maintenance. It is important to ensure that the involved part of the body returns to its function after fracture heals. To achieve this, maintenance of fracture reduction with immobilization technique is done by either non-operative or surgical method.
Non-operative (closed) therapy comprises of casting and traction (skin and skeletal traction).
closed reduction is done for any fracture that is displaced, shortened, or angulated. Splints and casts made up of fiberglass or plaster of Paris material are used to immobilize the limb.
Traction method is used for the management of fractures and dislocations that cannot be treated by casting. There are two methods of traction namely, skin traction and skeletal traction.
Skin traction involves attachment of traction tapes to the skin of the limb segment below the fracture. In skeletal traction, a pin is inserted through the bone distal to the fracture. Weights will be applied to this pin, and the patient is placed in an apparatus that facilitates traction. This method is most commonly used for fractures of the thighbone.
- Open Reduction and Internal Fixation (ORIF)
This is a surgical procedure in which the fracture site is adequately exposed and reduction of fracture is done. Internal fixation is done with devices such as Kirschner wires, plates and screws, and intramedullary nails.
- External fixation
External fixation is a procedure in which the fracture stabilization is done at a distance from the site of fracture. It helps to maintain bone length and alignment without casting.
External fixation is performed in the following conditions:
- Open fractures with soft-tissue involvement
- Burns and soft tissue injuries
- Pelvic fractures
- Comminuted and unstable fractures
- Fractures having bony deficits
- Limb-lengthening procedures
- Fractures with infection or non-union
Fractures may take several weeks to months to heal completely. You should limit your activities even after the removal of cast or brace so that the bone become solid enough to bear the stress. Rehabilitation program involves exercises and gradual increase in activity levels until the process of healing is complete.
The thigh bone, femur, and the pelvis, acetabulum, join to form the hip joint. The hip joint is a “ball and socket” joint. The “ball” is the head of the femur, or thigh bone, and the “socket” is the cup shaped acetabulum.
The joint surface is covered by a smooth articular surface that allows pain free movement in the joint.
The cartilage cushions the joint and allows the bones to move on each other with smooth movements. This cartilage does not show up on X-ray, therefore you can see a “joint space” between the femoral head and acetabular socket.
The hip joint is a “ball and socket” joint. The “ball” is the head of the femur or thigh bone and the “socket” is the cup shaped acetabulum. The joint surface is covered by a smooth articular surface that allows pain free movement in the joint.
Hip fracture is a break that occurs near the hip in the upper part of the femur or thigh bone. The thigh bone has two bony processes on the upper part – the greater and lesser trochanters. The lesser trochanter projects from the base of the femoral neck on the back of the thigh bone. Hip fractures can occur either due to a break in the femoral neck, in the area between the greater and lesser trochanter or below the lesser trochanter.
Hip fracture is most frequently caused after minor trauma in elderly patients with weak bones, and by a high-energy trauma or serious injuries in young people. Long term use of certain medicines, such as bisphosphonates to treat osteoporosis (a disease causing weak bones) and other bone diseases, increases the risk of hip fractures.
Signs and symptoms of hip fracture include
- Pain in the groin or outer upper thigh
- Swelling and tenderness
- Discomfort while rotating the hip
- Shortening of the injured leg
- Outward or inward turning of the foot and knee of the injured leg
Your doctor may order an X-ray to diagnose your hip fracture. Other imaging tests, such as the magnetic resonance imaging or (MRI), may also be performed to detect the fracture.
Depending on the area of the upper femur involved, hip fractures are classified as
- Intracapsular Fracture
- Intertrochanteric Fracture
- Subtrochanteric Fracture
Hip fractures can be corrected and aligned with non-operative and operative methods:
Traction may be an option to treat your condition if you are not fit for surgery. Skeletal traction may be applied under local anesthesia, where screws, pins and wires inserted into the femur and a pulley system is set up at the end of the bed to bear heavy weights. These heavy weights help in correcting the misaligned bones until the injury heals.
Hip fractures can be surgically treated with external fixation, intramedullary fixation, or by using plates and screws.
Pelvic fracture is a condition that arises due to breakage of the pelvis bones. It may damage internal organs, nerves, and blood vessels associated with the pelvis region.
The pelvis is a round structure of bones located at the base of the spine, connected to the sacrum of the spine with the help of strong ligaments. The pelvis is composed of three bones, namely ilium, ischium, and pubis that are fused together. The side of the pelvis is composed of a cup shape socket, known as acetabulum.
Various organs related to the digestive and reproductive systems lie within the pelvis ring. Also, several large nerves and blood vessels supplying the lower limbs pass through the pelvis. The pelvis ring also acts as point of attachment for muscles approaching from the upper and lower part of the body.
Based on the damage of the pelvis ring and associated structures, pelvic fractures can be categorized as:
- Stable pelvic fractures: Have single point breakage in the pelvis ring and broken bones remain in position; shows less bleeding
- Unstable pelvic fractures: Have breakage at two or more points, followed by severe bleeding. Unstable pelvic fractures may cause shock, extensive internal bleeding, and damage to the internal organs. It requires immediate medical care followed by long-term physical therapy and rehabilitation.
The common causes responsible for pelvic fractures include:
- Sports injuries or trauma
- Abrupt muscle contraction
- Conditions such as osteoporosis, especially in elderly people
- Accidental injury or fall from a great height
The common symptoms associated with pelvic fractures are:
- Pain and swelling in the groin or hip region that may worsen with ambulation
- Abdominal pain
- Bleeding through the urethra or vagina and the rectum
- Problems in urination
- Unable to stand or walk
The diagnosis of pelvic fracture starts with physical examination including checking the functional activity of the various body organs present in the pelvic region. Imaging techniques such as X-rays, CT (Contrast Tomography) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan may also be used to confirm the exact condition or breakage of the pelvic bones. In some cases, additional contrasting studies using radioactive dye may be recommended to evaluate the structural and functional activity of organs such as the urethra, bladder, and the pelvic blood vessels.
Treatment of the pelvic fracture depends upon the severity of the injury and condition of the patient. Minor or stable fractures can be treated with conservative methods such as rest, medications, use of crutches, physical therapy, and if required minor surgery. These methods may take 8–12 months for complete healing.
The treatment of unstable fractures includes management of the bleeding and injuries of the internal organs, blood vessels, and nerves. Surgical intervention may be employed for fixation of the fractured pelvic bones using screws and plates. Pelvic bone fixation provides stability to the pelvic bone and promotes natural healing of the fracture.
Pediatric Thighbone (Femur) Fracture
The femur or thighbone is the largest and strongest bone in the human body. Pediatric thighbone fractures can occur when your child falls hard on the ground and gets hit during sports, automobile accidents, and child abuse. In a thighbone fracture, the broken bones may be aligned or displaced. The fracture can either be closed (with skin intact) or open (with the bone piercing out through the skin). Your child may experience severe pain, swelling, inability to stand and walk, and limited range of motion of hip or knee.
Your child’s doctor will conduct a physical examination. An X-ray or CT-scan may be recommended to locate the position and number of fractures, and determine if the growth plate is damaged. Femur fractures may be treated with non-surgical or surgical methods.
Non-surgical treatment involves stabilizing the bones so they can heal and fuse together. Braces, spica casting (cast applied from the chest, down the fractured leg) or traction (placing the leg in a weight system) may be used to ensure that the bones are properly set in their normal position.
Surgery is recommended for complicated injuries. Your child’s surgeon aligns the broken bones and uses metal plates and screws to hold the fractured bones together in proper alignment. Your child may have to wear a cast for a few weeks until complete healing. An external fixator may be used in case of open injury to the skin and muscles.
Thighbone (Femur) Fracture
The femur or thigh bone is the longest and strongest bone in the body, connecting the hip to the knee. A femur fracture is a break in the femur. The distal femur is the lower part of the thigh bone which flares out like an upside-down funnel and its lower end is covered by a smooth, slippery articular cartilage that protects and cushions the bone during movement. Fracture of the distal femur may involve the cartilaginous surface of the knee as well and result in arthritis.
- Distal femur fracture: The distal femur is part of the femur bone that flares out like the mouth of the funnel. A distal femur (top part of knee joint) fracture is a break in thighbone that occurs just above your knee joint.
- Femoral shaft fracture: A femoral shaft fracture is a break that occurs anywhere along the femoral shaft, long, straight part of the femur.
- Proximal femur fracture: A hip fracture or proximal femur fracture is a break in the proximal end of the thigh bone near the hip.
Femur fractures may be caused by high energy injuries such as a fall from height or a motor vehicle accident. Patients with osteoporosis, bone tumor or infections, or a history of knee replacement are more prone to femur fractures. In the elderly, even a simple fall from a standing position may result in a fracture as the bones tend to become weak and fragile with advancing age.
Sudden, severe pain along with swelling and bruising are the predominant symptoms of femur fracture. The site is tender to touch with a visible physical deformity and shortening of the leg.
The diagnosis of femur fracture is based on the patient’s medical history including history of any previous injuries, complete physical examination and imaging studies. The physician will evaluate the soft tissue around the joint to identify any signs of nerve or blood vessel injury. Multiple X-rays and other imaging studies such as CT and MRI scans may be used to identify the location and severity of the fracture.
The management of the fracture is based on the severity of the fracture, medical condition of the patient and the patient’s lifestyle.
Non-surgical treatment comprises of immobilizing the fractured site with the help of casts or braces to prevent weight bearing and to help the healing process. X-rays are taken at regular intervals to assess the healing process. Weight bearing and movement are initiated gradually, depending on the nature of the injury and the condition of the patient.
Surgical treatment is considered to realign the fractured bone. The use of advanced technology and special materials has improved the surgical outcome even in older patients. External or internal fixation or a knee replacement may be required depending on the extent of the fracture. Timing of the surgery is an important factor in improving the surgical outcome.
Timing of surgery
In most cases, the surgery is delayed for a few days to develop an effective treatment plan and for preparation of the patient. With most distal femur fractures the surgery can be delayed unless the fracture is open to the environment.
An external fixator is used when the surrounding soft tissue is severely damaged, as the use of plates and screws may be harmful. The external fixator maintains the alignment of the bone till surgery.
Once the patient is prepared for surgery, the surgeon removes the external fixator and places internal fixation devices into the bone during surgery.
The internal fixation may be performed using intramedullary nailing or plates and screws. In intramedullary nailing a metal rod is inserted into the marrow canal of the femur to keep the fractured fragment in position. In the plate and screw method the bone fragments are realigned and held together with screws and plates, attached to the outer surface of the bone. If the fracture is of the comminuted type or the bone has broken into many pieces, plates or rods may be used at the ends of the fracture without disturbing the smaller pieces. The plate or rod will maintain the shape or strength of the bone till it heals. In elderly patients and those with poor bone quality, bone grafting may be used to improve the healing. Knee replacement may also be considered in complicated fractures or those with poor bone quality.
Artificial implants may be used to replace the fractured segments of the bone and joint.
Rehabilitation of the femur fracture depends upon several factors such as age, general health of the patient and the type of fracture. As the femur fracture usually involves the weight bearing joint it may cause long term problems such as loss of knee motion or instability and long term arthritis. Hence a rehabilitation program is initiated along with the treatment comprising of instructions on weight bearing, knee movements, and the use of external devices such as braces.