There are over one million broken bone injuries in the U.S. on a yearly basis, as estimated by the Cleveland Clinic. Among the several types of these injuries is a compound fracture.
In the event that you hear that fateful crack, here’s a quick guide to compound fractures:
What is a compound fracture?
Also known as an open fracture, compound fractures occur when there is an open wound or skin tear in the affected area, making the broken bone visible. It’s often the fragment of the bone itself that breaks through the skin and causes the open wound. This is opposed to closed fractures, in which the surrounding skin remains intact.
According to OrthoInfo by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, compound fractures are often caused by gunshots, motor-vehicle accidents, sports injuries or intense falls. The severity of compound fractures will depend on the cause, wound size and location, plus the amount of tissue damage.
The signs and symptoms
Severe pain, swelling, tenderness and bruising are common signs of any fracture. The open wound, which can range from a significant amount of skin loss to a small puncture hole, is the defining characteristic of a compound fracture.
Because the skin is open, compound fractures have a high risk of infection. Contamination can occur at the site of the injury, especially if objects like dirt, grass, broken glass, mud and clothing reach the wound. For this reason, initial compound fracture treatment will prioritize preventing infection development and progression, according to Verywell Health.
The treatment methods
Compound fractures require immediate medical attention so that a doctor can diagnose the injury and run the appropriate tests. From there, the doctor will give the patient antibiotics to ward off infection. OrthoInfo noted that patients will also get a tetanus booster if they haven’t had one within the last five years.
Most patients will undergo surgical wound cleaning and debridement to remove the damaged skin and foreign materials. From there, the doctor will stabilize the bone – typically with an external fixator because of its quick application, lack of foreign objects that can cause bacterial contamination and accessibility to the wound for proper care, according to Verywell Health.
Some compound fractures will require skin grafts or other surgical procedures to permanently close the wound and promote healing. Pain medication and physical therapy will likely also be involved in the treatment process.