A fracture is when a bone breaks, cracks or shatters. Bone fractures can occur throughout the body, but the most common places are the wrists, ankles and hips.
Fractures usually occur when there is more pressure or force than the bone can handle. Common causes include sports injuries, car accidents and falls. Health conditions like osteoporosis can make a person more vulnerable to fractures.
Fractures can vary in severity and factors like a person’s age and health condition can affect the type and seriousness of the fracture. Fractures require medical attention, and if the fracture is the result of serious trauma, 000 should be called.
Types of bone fractures
Bone fractures are classified according to the type and seriousness of the breakage. The most common types of fractures include:
A closed fracture is when the broken bone has not broken through the skin.
An open fracture is when the bone breaks through the skin tissue. Excessive bleeding and infections can be an issue with open fractures.
An incomplete fracture is when the bone does not completely break, but cracks partially. This type of fracture is more common in children because they have more flexible bones.
A complete fracture is when the bone breaks completely from one side to the other. Complete fractures can occur at any age.
A greenstick fracture is a type of incomplete fracture where there is a small, slim crack in the bone.
A hairline fracture is a type of incomplete stress fracture that usually occurs from doing repeated actions like running or jumping.
A comminuted fracture is a complicated fracture where the bone shatters into small pieces.
A compression fracture is when the bone buckles or collapses under intense pressure. It’s often caused when two bones push on each other.
A spiral fracture is a breakage in the bone caused by a twisting motion or force.
Bones are connected to muscles via tendons. An avulsion fracture occurs when a small part of the bone is pulled away due to powerful action in the muscles.
Signs and symptoms of bone fractures
If someone has suffered a bone fracture, they may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Intense pain
- Swelling and redness
- Difficulty walking or putting weight on the affected area
- Broken bone emerging through skin
- Loss of consciousness
When to call 000
You should call 000 for emergency medical help if the fracture was caused by a major trauma such as a car accident or if the person is unconscious or not responsive.
If you suspect someone has experienced a fracture in the head, neck or back, you should also call 000 and avoid moving them before paramedics arrive.
If the bone has broken through the skin and the person is suffering heavy bleeding, you should call 000.
First aid for bone fractures
While you are waiting for medical help to arrive, follow the steps below to treat a bone fracture.
Step 1. Limit movement
Avoid moving the injured person, especially if the fracture has occurred in the head, neck or back. Movement may cause further injury.
Paramedics may move the person using devices such as Stryker stretchers, but you should encourage the patient to sit or lay down until the paramedics arrive.
Step 2. Stop any bleeding wounds
If the injury is bleeding, apply pressure to the wound using a sterile wound dressing. If a wound dressing kit is not available, you can use a clean cloth or clothing.
Step 3. Support the limb with a splint
If the injury has occured on the arm or leg, you can provide support to the limb by using a splint.
A splint is a rigid device that is used to stabilise the injured limb and prevent further injury. You can use a purpose-built splint or if need be, you can use found materials to construct a splint.
Firstly, find a rigid item such as a rolled up newspaper, plank of wood or a heavy stick. Place this item so it rests on both joints either side of the fracture.
Then attach the rigid item to the limb using medical tape, shoe laces, strips of cloth or other appropriate items. Do not place ties over the injury itself and avoid over tightening as this can cut off blood circulation.
Step 4. Apply an ice pack
Use an ice pack to help reduce any swelling around the sight. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin. Wrap it in a towel or cloth first.
Step 5. Monitor the patient
Keep a close eye on the person. If you have applied a splint, check every 15 minutes that it is not cutting off their circulation.
If the person is feeling dizzy or nauseous, lay them down and elevate the legs if possible.