Understanding an Open Fracture

Most folks would agree that fractured bones require medical attention. But have you ever put off a trip to the doctor because you weren’t sure whether the ankle you twisted while running was broken or “just” sprained? Lots of us do that.

When it comes to an open fracture, however, you don’t have the luxury of debating whether you should seek medical care now or later. An open fracture requires immediate attention.

Board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Andrew B. Weiss, MD, is well-known and highly regarded for his skill in treating fractures of all types. Children, teens, and adults in and around Beverly Hills, California, benefit from his expertise. 

Read what Dr. Weiss has to say about open fractures and the care they require.

Open versus closed fractures

Fractured, or broken, bones come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of damage. Some are best described as small cracks in the bone (stress fractures). More serious fractures include a comminuted fracture, which occurs when a bone breaks into several pieces.

Most fractures are closed, meaning the break is hidden beneath layers of skin, muscle, and other tissue. You may notice skin discoloration, obvious deformity, and swelling when you have a closed fracture. But you won’t see the damaged bone itself without the benefit of X-rays and other diagnostic imaging.

You may very well get a glimpse (or more) of bone, however, if you have an open fracture. Also known as a compound fracture, an open fracture includes a tear or open wound in the skin. The wound may be large, through which the shattered ends of broken bone protrude. Sometimes the visible skin break is small and more like a puncture. 

Either way, the underlying damage to bone, muscles, blood vessels, and other structures can be extensive. And the risk of infection greatly complicates treatment for an open fracture.

What causes open fractures?

Open fractures are often related to high-impact trauma. However, a fall at home or a sports injury can also result in an open fracture if the impact has enough energy to force broken bone through skin.   

Treating open fractures

Preventing infection that can invade bone and quickly become life-threatening is an overriding priority when treating an open fracture. Even a small wound in your protective skin barrier makes it easy for bacteria to thrive.  

The faster treatment begins, the better the chance of preventing infection. Thus, you can expect to start on antibiotics immediately, often via IV infusion in the emergency room. We also proceed quickly with X-rays and other imaging tests as necessary to help determine the severity of bone and soft tissue damage, which will determine the course of your treatment.

Open fractures require surgical debridement and irrigation of the wound and bone to remove contaminants and severely damaged tissue. After that, depending on the extent of your injury, Dr. Weiss may proceed with surgical repair and stabilization of the fractured bone via internal or external fixation using screws, plates, and other biocompatible devices to hold the bones in place while the fracture heals.

Dr. Weiss continues to follow you closely throughout your recovery, which is sometimes prolonged due to the bone and soft tissue damage that occurs with an open fracture.

For expert orthopedic care in a warm and welcoming setting, call our office today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Weiss.

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