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Complications can make fractures a significant risk to patients

You were involved in a crash, and you suffered several broken bones. You didn't think they'd be serious, but they just don't seem to be getting better.

Complications from injuries can make any injury much more severe. While fractures are common and most people will deal with them at one time or another, there are cases where they become severe and have a range of complications.

The risk of complications from a fracture are based on the:

  • Complexity of the fracture
  • Treatment received for the fracture
  • Patient-specific risk factors
  • Post-fracture activities
  • Comorbidities
  • Immobility

How does a normal fracture heal?

With a normal fracture, you expect inflammation to begin and last between two to three weeks. Swelling will also occur at or near the point of injury.

After this, a soft callus forms. This same time is when you can see a decrease in swelling. The site of the fracture stiffens, which patients may or may not notice. For all this to occur, it takes four to eight weeks.

Hard callus formation is next. New bone is formed and bridges the fracture site. The bone should fill the fracture by 12 weeks post injury.

Finally, the bone remodels itself to correct any deformities. Interestingly, this may take several years before the bone is completely healed, remodeled and able to handle full loading strength.

What are some possible fracture complications?

Some possible fracture complications include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection
  • Soft-tissue compromise
  • Complex bone injury (crushed or splintered bones)

Each of these complications may lengthen the healing process. Some may require treatment through medications, surgery or other treatments.

What is the risk of life-threatening complications?

Most fractures won't lead to life-threatening injuries, but they have the potential to if they cause damage to other areas of the body. For example, a bone that splinters in the leg may disrupt the femoral artery. People with multiple ribs fractured might suffer from the inability to breathe deeply, which can result in pneumonia, flail chest or other life-threatening illnesses. In some patients, particularly the elderly, hip fractures may lead to pneumonia, rhabdomyolysis or thromboembolic disease.

Infection, vascular injuries, damage to the nerves, skin or surrounding tissues, and compartment syndrome are all risks. Additional possible risks include fat embolism, shock and the exacerbation of underlying diseases.

Are there late-stage complications to consider?

Later on in the healing process, some complications might include a fracture failing to heal, failing to heal in alignment, Sudeck's atrophy or other late-stage complications.

As you can see, a broken bone won't necessarily heal on its own or be something that only causes minor discomfort. Immediate treatment can help you avoid ongoing complications.

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