Broken bones are, unfortunately, a common occurrence. Roughly two million fractures occur in seniors due to osteoporosis, with another 4.8 million resulting directly from trauma. In general, the average American will fracture two bones during their lifetime.
Thankfully, most broken bones can heal independently without any major issues. Still, a small percentage of accident victims will face several complications and long-lasting disabilities due to their broken bones. For these individuals, mending a broken bone is just the start of a long recovery period.
What Is the Anatomy of Your Bones?
Bones are unique parts of the body due to their strong, rigid structure. Trace amounts of minerals get incorporated into many tissues in your body. But your bones incorporate a matrix made primarily of calcium phosphate, a hard, brittle mineral, which gives them their strength.
Like all living cells, your bone cells require oxygen to function, generating energy and producing proteins that build and repair bone cells. Your blood delivers oxygen to the bone cells. The phosphate matrix also includes openings that reduce bone weight and provide passageways for blood vessels.
These blood vessels pick up new white and red blood cells, along with platelets, which are manufactured in the bone marrow. The new blood cells replace worn-out ones that get filtered from the blood by the spleen.
Ligaments grow into the openings near the joints, the meeting points of each of your bones, holding them together and guiding joint movement. Tendons also grow into joint openings, anchoring the body’s muscles to the skeleton.
How Do Bones Break?
Bones break when the force on them exceeds their inherent material strength in the following circumstances:
An impact on your body can be enough to break bones, given that impacts transfer energy that can damage tissue, including the mineral matrix of the bones.
Such impact can be sustained when your body hits a solid object. For example, in a bicycle accident, a car could knock you over, and your hip could strike the ground. The resulting impact could fracture your pelvis.
Impacts can also come from a moving object that strikes your body. Thus, a car could break your leg when its bumper hits you during a pedestrian accident.
Some examples of applied forces that can break your bones include the following:
- Bending forces
- Twisting forces
- Compressing forces
Your leg could get trapped under your motorcycle during a motorcycle accident. The weight of the motorcycle could bend your leg bone until it breaks. Similarly, a head-on collision could push your engine into the firewall of your car, causing your foot to get trapped and twisted, resulting in a broken leg.
Common causes of compression forces include car accidents. During a crash, your body whips around, hyperextending and compressing your spine. As it compresses, the vertebrae can be squeezed and subsequently broken.
Crushing pressure is sustained when a force gets applied over a wide area. As a result, a bone could break in multiple places, or multiple bones may break. For example, if a car runs over your foot, you could break multiple bones in several locations throughout your foot and lower leg.
How Are Broken Bones Classified?
Bone fractures fall into several classes based on several criteria, including:
Displacement of the Bone
Displacement refers to the position the bone ends up in after the fracture.
A non-displaced fracture, for instance, leaves the broken ends of the bone aligned. In other words, the bone breaks, but its broken ends remain in contact and in line with the long axis of the bone. Doctors can treat a nondisplaced fracture by stabilizing it with a cast or brace. The broken ends will heal together over six to eight weeks.
A displaced fracture, on the other hand, moves the ends of the bone out of alignment. The broken ends might sit at an angle and thus misalign with the long axis of the bone. Alternatively, a gap could separate the ends, or one end might twist with respect to the other.
As such, displaced fractures require more work, as doctors need to set the broken bone by realigning its broken ends. If they fail to do so, the broken ends may heal misaligned or not heal at all.
Sometimes, doctors can set a bone through closed reduction, which manipulates the bones back into alignment without surgery. Most often, though, doctors will operate on a displaced fracture. The broken bone is exposed and manipulated into alignment. Before closing the incision, doctors may secure the bone in place with plates and screws.
Open or Closed Injury
An open fracture occurs when the broken bone tears through the skin. An open, displaced fracture is also called a “compound fracture.” Doctors must close the open wound created when they set the bone.
In contrast, closed fractures occur when broken bones do not create open wounds. A closed fracture could be either displaced or non-displaced. Even if the bones displace, they will not displace far enough to puncture the skin.
Shape of the Fracture
The shape of a fracture can tell you how it was formed. A spiral fracture, for instance, happens when a bone is twisted, while an impacted fracture happens when a bone buckles under compression.
The fracture’s shape can also tell you how long it will take to heal. A comminuted fracture, also called a shattered bone, happens when a bone gets crushed into at least three pieces. Doctors must operate to reconstruct the bone using plates or rods, and in many cases, the reconstructed bone can take a year or longer to fully heal.
What Complications Can Result From a Broken Bone?
Broken bones can develop complications, including the following:
Infections happen when bacteria or viruses enter your body, and open fractures are particularly susceptible to infections. A bone infection, called osteomyelitis, can weaken and deform a bone.
Osteoarthritis occurs when a bone is worn down, particularly at a joint. If a displaced fracture heals out of alignment, the added stress on the joint can cause it to wear excessively, and the resulting arthritis will cause pain and inflammation in the joint.
The body forms clots over fractures, which trap healing cells and block microorganisms. However, if a piece of the clot breaks away, it can travel into the lungs, where it can form a pulmonary embolism that blocks the blood vessels carrying oxygen-depleted blood to the lungs.
You might experience chest pain and shortness of breath, and the condition can permanently damage your lungs or even kill you if you do not receive emergency treatment.
Can I Get Personal Injury Compensation For Broken Bones?
A broken bone can temporarily disable you while you recover, and though rare, it can also cause long-term complications. You can seek personal injury compensation — which includes your medical costs, wage losses, and pain and suffering — for any broken bones you sustain that were caused by someone else’s actions.