How Do Broken Bones Heal?

Getting a broken bone is never a fun experience. While the human skeleton is strong, it cannot withstand certain weights, angles and collisions. Most people will have at least one bone breakage in their lifetime, more if they participate in sports or extremist hobbies, but what is happening on the inside of our bodies when a bone is broken? It might not be easy to imagine but the human body’s ability to repair and heal is always a point of fascination for the medical community.

To begin, there are classifications for different kinds of breaks. Some breaks can be fatal such as breaks at the neck vertebrae or in the skull. Others can be so small that they aren’t even recognized. Doctors refer to the breakage of a bone as a “fracture” and organize different fractures by the degree of damage and shape of the break.

First they are classified into three main groups: stress, impact and pathological fractures. Stress fractures occur when the bone has been made to withstand too much pressure. Over time, the bone cannot support the pressure and fractures. This is a common for professional athletes who create intense stress on their body for long periods of time. An impact fracture usually occurs when too much weight or pressure has been placed on a bone, like a car accident or a fall. Pathological fractures occur when a person has a condition that causes weakening of the bones. In these instances, normal or slightly strenuous activities cause the bones to break, conditions like osteoporosis or brittle bone disease can make bones fragile and fractures common.

A “greenstick” fracture is a fracture on one side of the bone but not the other. A “complete” fracture refers to a break of a bone into two pieces. A “hairline” fracture means a small but noticeable break in the bone. A “comminuted” fracture means that the bone has been broken in more than one area or crushed. A “bowing” fracture is something that can only happen to children but it is when the bone bows instead of breaks, it is still incredibly painful. Finally, an “open” or “compound” fracture refers to when the bone has come through the skin and can be seen.

There are also fractures that refer to the shape of the fracture like “oblique” fractures which are diagonal fractures across the bone. “Spiral” fractures refer to a break when both halves of a bone are twisted. What is the most commonly broken bone? The clavicle or collarbones. What is the strongest bone in the body? The femur or leg bone is the strongest as well as the longest.

Depending on the kind of fracture one has or one’s pain tolerance levels, most fractures are typically quite painful. The brain is rushing signals of dopamine to begin repairing the damage and adrenaline to keep one alert through the pain. If a limb bone is broken, keep it elevated. This will stop the blood flow to the break. Next, keep the area as still as possible until medical attention can arrive.

Once at a hospital or a medical imaging facility, doctors will likely use X-rays to determine the kind of fracture that has occurred and to make sure the fracture is posing no other internal risk.

X-rays are the oldest method of medical imaging but they are still necessary for treatment. X-rays use radioactive materials to take images of the skeletal structure of the body. While some facilities may be the using the traditional and outdated forms of X-rays, Doctors Imaging only uses advanced digital X-ray capabilities. This allow Doctors Imaging to have clearer images, in turn helping doctors perform better aftercare and make more accurate diagnosis.

Once the fracture has been identified, the bone may need to be set and casted. For some breaks, setting the bone is painful but not difficult. For shattered or joint breaks, sometimes surgery is necessary because the bones need to be fused with a metal pin, that will be adjusted periodically to help repair the bones to their original state.

If you have more questions about bone fractures and their treatment, please visit our X-ray Service Page. If you need to make an appointment for an X-ray, you can fill our Book an Appointment request or call our offices at 504-833-8111 to speak to a representative of Doctors Imaging.

I think I broke a bone. What test should I get?

Humans are not perfectly designed machines. They get sick, fall down and get broken quite easily and more often than they like. Getting broken bones is never fun. It’s painful, may require a hospital visit and can be uncomfortable for several weeks afterward. Auto accidents, sports, and falls are some of the most common ways breaks and fracture occur. Regardless of age, bone fractures and breaks are always alarming because if not properly examined, muscles, ligaments, and nerves can become damaged as well. So after the shock and the excruciating pain of a bone break fades slightly, here are the tests your Radiologist will schedule to determine the extent of your damage.

X-rays

X-rays are the oldest and one of the most commonly used forms of medical imaging. X-rays use small amounts of radiation aimed at the body and in turn, the excited atoms relay the location and density of the internal structures of the body to the X-ray machine. Most facilities and hospitals use digital X-rays today which have much lower doses of radiation if that is a concern of the patient. Bones in particular become very prominent when using this method of medical imaging. Radiologists use X-rays so they can clearly see the area that has been broken, if there is an object lodged within the area or for determining if a patient needs to have surgery. Radiologists will primarily use an X-ray when examining a bone breakage because of the non-invasive nature of the procedure. The most uncomfortable part of this scan will likely be remaining still and relaxed especially if it irritates the area with the bone break. But it is important for patients to remain as still as possible so the image is not distorted.

MRI

In addition to the X-ray, your Radiologist may schedule a CT or MRI to better look at a potentially broken bone. Is this a reason to become worried? Certainly not. Radiologists like to be thorough and patients usually appreciate the extra effort. MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a procedure that is commonly used for musculoskeletal disorders and concerns. MRIs use magnetic and radio waves to create their images. There is no radiation used but once again the patient will have to lie down on an examination table in order to have the MRI performed. This can be painful but necessary because when a bone breaks, there can be other damages surrounding break site. In order to determine if there are any ligaments, tendons, or nerves damaged around the break, Radiologists need to see more than just the bone.

Having a broken bone will never be considered an enjoyable experience, but with the advances in medical imaging technology, Radiologists will have more detailed images to help heal their patients. If you have a fracture or break, be sure to ask your doctor if you need these procedures so that you can be sure your therapy and healing process can be completed as quickly as possible.

Did you break your bone in Louisiana? We’ll provide you with the imaging tests you need to know the full extent of your injury. You can schedule an imaging appointment online, or call 504-883-8111. We’re conveniently located in Metairie, LA.