As hand therapists, one of the most common injuries we see are broken bones (fractures) of the arm, wrist, and hand. These fractures often occur after a fall and can happen to anyone at any age. This blog will discuss what the recovery period could look like if you or a loved one experiences a broken bone.
Immediately after a fracture, you may experience pain, swelling, bruising, and you may have even heard the bone break. A doctor will determine what imaging is required (usually x-ray) to assess a fracture. If you have an open fracture (the skin is broken), you will have to be treated right away to ensure you do not develop complications such as an infection from bacteria entering the body. Fortunately, many fractures are closed (no skin has broken).
Your doctor will determine whether the fracture is non-displaced (the bone has not shifted out of place) or displaced (the bone has shifted significantly, forming a gap and is not stable). Non-displaced fractures often do not require surgery, and you may expect several weeks of immobilization in a cast or a removable splint. Displaced fractures may require surgery to stabilize and fixate the bone. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist who determines the next step in your care.
Whether you are immobilized until your bone has healed enough or undergo surgery, overcoming stiffness and regaining strength are very common parts of recovering a broken bone. Your muscles and joints might become stiff if your elbow, wrist, or fingers were immobilized in a cast or removable splint. Or, you may become very stiff after having surgery due to swelling.
Your physician may refer you to see a hand or occupational therapist who treats the body from the shoulder to the fingertips. The hand therapist will evaluate to assess your swelling, motion, and pain. They may make you a custom, removable splint out of thermoplastic to be worn between your therapy exercises that can be adjusted as your swelling decreases. By collaborating with your physician/surgeon, the hand therapist can determine the best plan to restore your motion while ensuring that your bone continues to heal properly. Once your physician/surgeon has determined that the bone is ready, the hand therapist will begin strengthening exercises geared towards helping you achieve your goals – whether that be playing sports, taking care of your children, or going back to work.
Bone healing is a process that hinges upon the type of fracture, the age, and the health of the person. You may return to all of your everyday activities in a matter of weeks, or it may be months before returning to a physically demanding job, sport or hobby. Your therapist and doctor will work closely together with you to ensure maximal bone healing and function. If you have any questions about the healing process for a broken bone, reach out to one of our highly skilled hand therapists. Our team can help to improve your mobility and range of motion to help you get back to living a happy and healthy life.
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1. “Bone Fractures: Types, Treatment & Symptoms.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15241-bone-fractures.
2. “Hand & Wrist Fractures.” Summit Orthopedics, 10 Jan. 2019, http://www.summitortho.com/services/orthoquick/commonly-treated-conditions/hand-wrist-fractures/#:~:text=In%20a%20nondisplaced%20fracture%20the,and%20category%20of%20the%20fracture.