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Fractures or broken bones are characterized in numerous ways. Although "broken bone" is the more colloquial term, and less frequently used in the medical community, it essentially means the same thing as fracture. When a person has a fracture, damage to the bone has occurred, and this could include the bone breaking into two or more pieces or cracking so that a visible “break” can be seen with x-rays. Sometimes these breaks are classed as a closed fracture or open fracture.
It’s very easy to understand the difference between these two classes. An open fracture not only damages bone, but also breaks the skin. This is a medical emergency due to the potential for infection and the need in most cases for surgery to replace the bone and close any wounds caused by the bone breakage. There are many potential treatments for an open fracture depending on its location, but in most cases, surgery and antibiotics are needed right away to minimize likelihood of infection and to promote bone healing.
In contrast to this is the closed fracture. This is when bone injury breakage occurs but the break does not result in the skin breaking. This can still be medically urgent depending on area of fracture. A fractured head or pelvis is extremely serious even when skin remains intact.
A minor fracture in an arm, wrist, or perhaps a collarbone needs immediate attention, but wouldn’t necessarily require calling emergency services unless other severe injuries were present or no help was available. It is a judgment call, but many people are able to wait for a few moments and with help, they head to the emergency room, urgent care center or doctor’s office to obtain diagnosis of what appears to be a very minor closed fracture. If fracture is suspected, most people should not drive themselves to any of these locations, since the chance of going into shock from pain is high.
In some cases, a closed fracture can be just as potentially dangerous as an open one. Moving the area that is damaged could result in serious tissue damage under the skin, and undeniably, these breaks can be extremely painful. People are advised not to ask those with a suspected fracture to move the area that may be injured. Instead, the best practice is to keep the area of injury as still as possible. This might be done by splinting to immobilize a fractured bone, or by providing a sling.
One of the best ways to learn how to treat a fracture while waiting for medical care is to take a first aid class. This can teach people how to handle fractures of different areas of the body. Since broken bones are not that uncommon in a number of settings, such information could prove very useful.
While first aid care is important, a fracture still requires more expert medical attention. Doctors need to identify area of fracture, bones might require resetting, and decision on treatment needs to made. Treatment can be very different depending on what type of fracture is present, the degree of damage, and the area where damage occurred. This tends to be individualized to the injury, and especially because the fracture is closed, the treatment course isn't always predictable until after diagnostic x-rays have been performed.
I fell down hard, at a Washington state McDonald's in 1985. I think the medical doctor, on that night in 1985 said it was a closed fracture, and sent me on my way, with crutches, and some leg workout instructions! That was not a very responsible thing for a medical doctor to do, to just give an injured person with a closed fracture leg workout instructions and some crutches! I hate McDonald's.
My brother had a closed fracture on his arm when he was 7 - both of his forearm bones, the radius and the ulna, broke in two and half of the forearm was bent downwards just held together by skin. It was a very painful experience for him. The bones were not correctly set the first time he went to the doctor and he had to have them re-broken, re-set and re-cast in order for them to heal properly. Make sure you have a knowledgeable physician set the closed fracture correctly and double check everything with an x-ray.
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