What Complications Can Arise from Bone Breaks and Fractures?

Can you die from a broken bone?A fracture is a crack or break in a bone. It happens when force against a bone is stronger than the actual bone. Fractures are usually the result of overuse or injury. The site may feel painful, swollen, and look distorted.

Merck states that blood vessel and nerve damage, compartment syndrome, infections, and long-lasting joint problems may also be present. Treatment depends on the injury and might include immobilization, surgery, surgical insertion of metal rods and plates, pain relievers, ice, casting, compression, and elevation of the limb. Most fractures heal well and don’t cause additional problems. The length of healing depends on several factors – including age, type and severity of injury, and other illnesses or disorders the patient may have.

Healing after a bone break or fracture

Better Health offers suggestions for proper healing after a fracture or break. Follow your doctor’s advice and use this as a guide:

  • Avoid heat until the cast has set
  • Rest
  • Follow instructions for using crutches, and use techniques taught for managing day-to-day activities
  • Avoid lifting or driving
  • Don’t poke anything between the cast and your limb to combat itchiness; use a hair dryer and blow cool air inside the cast
  • Keep cast dry
  • Call your doctor immediately if there is loss of movement in extremities, pins and needles, increased pain, numbness, swelling or blueness

What are the potential complications from broken bones?

It is critical to treat complications of a bone break or fracture immediately. Warning signs of complications can include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Wound drainage
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Limping

Orthopedists at Henry Ford Health say most bones heal normally, but some complications may occur, including:

  • Wrongly-fitted casts
  • Blood loss
  • Injuries to surrounding organs and structures
  • Stunted growth, if a child’s bone breaks close to the growth plates
  • Poor alignment after the fracture of the limb; bone deformities (malunions)
  • Infection
  • Delayed union, a fracture that takes longer to heal than expected
  • A nonunion, a fracture that does not heal

Severe complications may include the following:

Blood vessel damage. Bleeding is often caused by fractures but is rarely serious enough to cause a life-threatening drop in blood pressure or shock. However, if the thigh bone (femur) or pelvis is fractured, severe internal bleeding can occur. Additionally, if a person is on blood thinners, minor injuries may cause substantial bleeding.

Lack of blood flow. Hip or knee dislocation disrupts blood flow to the leg, causing ischemia, where the leg does not get enough blood. Necrosis may set in, and tissues of the leg could die resulting in amputation of part of the leg. Sometimes, fractures of the elbow and upper arm can disturb blood flow to the forearm. Disrupted blood supply may not cause any symptoms until hours after the injury.

Nerve damage. A bone fracture or direct blow to a bone may stretch or crush nerves. Nerve injuries usually heal on their own. Torn nerves are rare but may happen with an injury, usually when skin is torn. Torn nerves may need to be repaired with surgery.

Pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a severe complication of a fracture. A blood clot forms in a vein, breaks away, travels to the lungs, and blocks an artery. A hip fracture increases the risk of a pulmonary embolism because it involves a leg injury, where most clots that cause embolisms form. Swelling forms around the fracture which slows blood. This type of fracture forces immobility which also slows blood flow, giving clots the chance to form. Merck says one-third of deaths after hip fracture are from pulmonary embolisms.

Fat embolism. This rarity happens when long bones, like the thigh bone, fracture, and release fat from the bone’s marrow. The fat travels through veins, lodges in the lungs and blocks blood vessels, causing a pulmonary embolism.

Compartment syndrome. Rarely, an increase in pressure in the space around muscles occurs when muscles swell and cut off their blood supply. The swelling puts pressure on nearby blood vessels and blood flow to the injured part may be blocked. Tissues in the limb can die or become damaged and amputation may be necessary. If not treated quickly, the patient can die. Compartment syndrome is more likely in people who have certain fractures of the lower leg, certain arm fractures, and a Lisfranc fracture, which is a type of foot fracture.

Osteomyelitis. If skin tears when a bone breaks and the wound becomes infected, the infection may spread to the bone causing osteomyelitis. Osteomyelitis is difficult to cure.

Joint problems. Cartilage damage from fractures that extend into a joint tends to scar, which may cause osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis limits range of motion and makes joints stiff. Surgery is often needed to repair cartilage, and physical therapy helps prevent stiffness. An unstable joint may result from a fracture, increasing the risk of osteoarthritis. Splints and casts can help prevent permanent problems.

Osteonecrosis. Osteonecrosis occurs when blood flow to a bone is disrupted and part of the bone dies. Osteonecrosis is more likely to happen due to certain injuries, such as scaphoid wrist fractures and hip fractures in which the broken bones are out of place.

Treatments for complications from fractured bones

According to Henry Ford Orthopedic specialists, doctors use various treatments depending on the nature of the complication. These may include:

  • Antibiotics to kill bacteria and treat bone infections.
  • Internal or external fixators, which are surgically attached bars, rods, plates, or screws to stabilize the bone
  • Bone grafting, surgically-transplanted healthy bone to repair diseased bones, bone loss or bones that don’t heal
  • In some cases, surgical amputation may be necessary if bone tissue dies.

If you or a loved one have suffered complications after a broken or fractured bone due to someone’s negligence, then it’s time for you to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney at Gainsberg Injury and Accident Lawyers in Chicago. Call our office at 312-600-9585, or complete our contact form today to set up a free consultation.