Many people suffer painful broken bones

For little kids, broken bones are often seen as something of a rite of passage. Picking the perfect color cast and showing it off at school is all fun and games when you’re 8 years old — after the initial shock of hitting the ground and visiting the emergency room wears off, that is. For adults, a broken bone isn’t greeted with nearly as much enthusiasm, and while a fractured ankle or collar bone is not life-threatening, having to wear a cast or sling for weeks on end is a significant inconvenience for someone with work and family responsibilities. For the elderly, suffering a fracture can be a serious health concern because bones become weaker with age and take much longer to heal when broken.

“People of all ages break bones,” said Cortez orthopedic surgeon Douglas Bagge, MD. “Kids fall off monkey bars and bikes, in adults we see people whose balance isn’t as good as it once was fall and sustain fractures, and plenty of people get injured during sporting activities.” In children and in younger, active adults some of the more common bone breaks are wrists and collarbones, with fractured ankles and dislocated shoulders also making the top 10 list.

“Any broken bone is going to hurt,” said Bagge, adding that pain control is usually an issue for about the first two weeks following an injury. Not all fractures, however, require surgical repair.

“Most collarbone fractures, for example, are treated nonoperatively,” said Bagge.

Other breaks that don’t usually require surgery are ribs, toes and fingers, but anyone who sustains what they believe to be a fracture should seek medical attention, because even though a visit to the operating room may not be necessary, a sling, cast, or splint might be warranted, depending on what’s broken and the level of displacement that has occurred.

“The pain is usually enough to send most people to the ER,” Bagge said.

Fractured ribs are a frequent occurrence in and around Montezuma County, in part because of the active lifestyle many residents enjoy.

“Farm and ranch accidents are a common cause of broken bones, including ribs,” Bagge said. “Broken ribs often occur in association with other injuries following an accident of some sort. They’re usually treated nonoperatively and take about six weeks to heal.”

In the senior population, hip fractures are all too common and can be serious, landing an individual in the hospital and even in a long-term care facility for rehabilitation.

“With hip fractures, we always focus on prevention,” Bagge said. “It’s important, especially for elderly people, to make sure their home environment is safe so they’re less likely to fall.”

Fall prevention steps include eliminating obstacles such as throw rugs and electrical cords that create potential trip hazards. Having grab bars installed in certain locations around the home can also be helpful, and some older adults find using a walking stick aids in maintaining balance.

There are two main types of bone fractures, designated as “open” or “closed” by medical professionals. “Open is where the skin has been punctured by the bone,” said Bagge. These injuries are more serious due to an increased risk of infection. An open fracture usually indicates a severe displacement or misalignment and is more likely to require surgical treatment.

A dislocation is another type of fracture and occurs at a joint, such as a finger or shoulder. This type of injury is usually treated non-surgically, unless a doctor can’t get the joint back into place using manual manipulation.

Breaks that typically require a stay in the hospital include fractures of the hip, femur (thigh bone), and pelvis. Smaller bones that break can usually be treated in the emergency room, however, through follow-up with a medical professional is important in these cases.

“Oftentimes, a broken bone will be splinted in the ER but not casted or treated surgically right away,” Bagge said. “Sometimes we have to wait for the swelling to go down, so patients should be sure to understand what the next steps are when they’re discharged from the emergency department following a fracture.”

How long it takes for a broken bone to heal depends on age.

“Kids heal much more quickly than adults,” Bagge said.

An adult should plan on six to 12 weeks for a bone to heal, but Bagge cautions not to expect full range of motion and strength to return for some time after that.

“It can take a full year for complete recovery,” Bagge said, adding that by the 12-month mark most patients are either back to normal or have healed to the extent that their body is able. “After a fracture, a patient should experience a slow but steady healing process over the course of up to a year,” said Bagge.

“The body is programmed to heal in its own time frame, and you can’t really speed the process,” Bagge said.

But there are things patients do that slow down healing and make a bad situation worse such as trying to move bones too early, smoking, and engaging in poor nutrition habits.

Physical therapy is frequently recommended for patients who have experienced severe fractures and for those whose healing process is delayed.

“If range of motion isn’t coming back as we’d expect, PT gets involved,” Bagge said.

Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colorado. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal health care provider.

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