Long Bone Fractures
What are long bone fractures?
Long bones are the large bones of your arms and legs. A fracture occurs when one of these bones breaks. There are many different types of breaks. Your doctor can inform you which type of break you have.
What are the symptoms of a long bone fracture?
- Unable to put weight on that limb, limited movement
- Shortening, limb at an odd angle
- Open wound
- Bruising & swelling
How are long bone fractures treated?
Treatment depends on the bones involved and the type of fracture. Soon after injury your broken bone was splinted (immobilized) to prevent further injury. Then, it was placed backing the correct position. You will have x-rays. Your broken bone may have a cast placed. In certain situations, surgery will be needed to fix your broken bone and allow it to heal correctly. The surgeon may place pins or screws either on the inside or outside of the broken limb. If your broken bone come through your skin, this is called an open fracture, surgery and antibiotics may be needed to clean out the wound.
Your pain will be managed with medicines and other methods.
Your nurses will encourage you to cough and breathe deeply often. They will teach you to use an incentive spirometer to help prevent lung problems.
With any type of fracture you will have less than normal movement of your limb. If needed, physical therapists and occupational therapists will help you with movement of your injured limb. Activity also helps prevent skin breakdown, lung problems, constipation, and loss of muscle strength. Therapists and nurse will help you with moving around and getting out of bed.
What complications may occur with a long bone fracture?
Compartment Syndrome – This is caused by increased pressure inside your arm or leg from bleeding or swelling, or a tight dressing. Your nerves, blood vessels, and muscles can be damaged if the pressure is not released. Your caregivers will closely watch the circulation, feeling, and movement of your arm or leg. Treatment includes raising your arm or leg. You may also have the pressure released by the surgeon making an incision called a fasciotomy.
Infection – Open fractures are at highest risk for infection as germs can easily enter your body through open skin. Infection of the bone is called osteomyelitis. To prevent and treat an infection, you will be given antibiotics along with a tetanus shot if it is not up to date.
Blood clots (Deep Vein Thrombosis or Pulmonary Embolism) – You may have injured your blood vessels and are likely moving around less than normal with a long bone fracture. You are at risk for a blood clot. A blood clot can form in an arm or leg (DVT). You could have calf pain, swelling, and warmth of the area, but may have no other symptoms. When the clot breaks free and travels to your lung, it becomes more dangerous and is known as a pulmonary embolism (PE). You may have sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, a racing heart, bloody spit, and anxiety. Moving around and getting out of bed soon after your accident is the main way to prevent a blood clot. You will wear elastic stockings and compression devices on your legs to improve circulation. Most patients receive an anticoagulant medicine which helps prevent a clot if they need to be in the hospital after their fracture.
What should I expect when I go home?
Fractures take weeks to months to heal, depending on your age, health, and the type of fracture. Do not drive while taking narcotic pain medicine. Keep your leg or arm raised between periods of activity to decrease swelling. You may apply ice if swelling occurs. Avoid smoking as it delays bone healing.
If you are going home with a cast, see HFFY #4332 on cast care.
If you have broken a leg bone, you will likely go home with an assistive device such as a walker, crutches, or a cane. Physical therapy will fit you for this device and teach you how to safely use it. Your doctor will tell you if you are allowed to put any weight on your broken leg. After your bone has healed you may need therapy to increase the strength of your unused muscles.
When to call your doctor
- Increased numbness or tingling in your fingers or toes.
- Increased pain, redness, or swelling at your incision.
- Increased swelling of leg or arm that does not go away after you have raised it.
- Change in color (blue or purple) or warmth (very cool or very warm) to fingers or toes.
- A temperature greater than 100.5° F for more than 24 hours.
Orthopedics Clinic (608) 263-7540 or (608) 287-2700
Toll free 1-800-323-8942
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 03/17/2011
Copyright © 02/05/2010 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6992
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