Broken bones are always serious, but when there’s damage to soft tissue around the bone break, called an open or compound fracture, the problems ahead of you multiply. Your long-term prognosis depends on several factors surrounding the severity of your fracture. While, in most cases, you’ll eventually be able to return to your former active lifestyle, much depends on how you heal and your attention to the details of recovery.
Eric E. Johnson, MD, is a fracture specialist. As an orthopaedic trauma surgeon, dealing with open fractures and the unique challenges they present is a regular part of his practice. Dr. Johnson is the right choice when you want comprehensive, informed treatment after a compound fracture.
Defining an open fracture
When a bone breaks, the damage is often internal and invisible from the outside, unless there’s a severe deformation of your body at the break. This constitutes a closed, or simple fracture. Treatment typically focuses on aligning, stabilizing, and immobilizing the broken bone.
An open fracture breaks through the soft tissue surrounding the bone, including an open wound through the skin. Fractures of this type usually result from a high-impact event, such as a car accident or a gunshot wound, but they may also result from sports injuries or falls in rare cases.
Unlike a closed fracture, where the bone's condition is the primary concern, the treatment priority of an open fracture is the prevention of infection. Your skin provides an essential barrier against bacteria and other contaminants, and a wound that penetrates the skin becomes a potentially serious entry point for infectious disease. It’s the standard of care for open fractures to treat the injury first for the potential infection risk and then deal with the broken bone itself later.
Open fracture treatment
In most cases, the initial treatment of an open fracture takes place in a sterile operating room. This is where debridement and irrigation take place. Dr. Johnson removes dirt, foreign objects, and damaged tissue from the wound, anything that could potentially contaminate the wound. This is the debridement phase, and it often requires an enlargement of the initial break in the skin. Irrigation flushes the wound with plenty of saline solution. Once cleaning of the injury meets Dr. Johnson’s approval, repairs of the bone fracture begin.
Open fractures typically take longer to heal than closed fractures, even if early treatment prevents infection. A closed fracture to a bone may take three months to heal, for example. A similar fracture with an associated open wound may take an additional four to six weeks. Since open fractures usually result from severe trauma, recovery could be longer due to the severity of the injury.
Long recovery times might mean that you’ll suffer some muscle atrophy, and you could require physical therapy to regain full strength and mobility.
Every open fracture has its challenges. Contact Eric E. Johnson, MD, at 424-309-1492 to assure the best care and follow-up for your open fracture or other orthopaedic injury.