My Bone Has Fractured – What Do I Do Next?
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Have you recently broken a bone?

You may think you broke a bone because you were clumsy, but your broken bone can be a warning sign of something more serious… osteoporosis. Because you cannot see or feel osteoporosis, the first noticeable symptom may be a fracture.

Stages of healing after a fracture

But first, the actual fracture needs to be treated and the healing process will start.  Any broken bone due to poor bone health is considered a medical emergency and typically requires time in a hospital emergency department, admission to hospital for surgery, hospital stay, rehabilitation and home care.  The type of care you will receive depends on the sort of fracture you have suffered and how serious the break was. 

When a bone is broken, the body initiates a process to repair the break and bring the bone back to function.1

  1. Inflammation and pain
    When a bone breaks, the body sends out signals to the injured area resulting in swelling (inflammation) and pain.  This tells the body to stop using the injured part so it can heal. Within a few hours, the immune system sends in cells which start the healing process. Blood clots form at the injury site as a first step in holding the broken bone together.
  2. Bone repair
    Over the next 4–21 days, soft callus (a type of soft bone) starts to form at the injury site.  This holds the bone together, but it isn’t strong enough for the body part to be used normally. Casts and splints can be used to hold broken bones in place while they heal. Another type of cell, called osteoblasts, then move in to form new bone, making the callus harden and form a bridge between the fractured pieces. This process lasts for 6–12 weeks after the initial broken bone.
  3. Bone remodelling
    After this, regular bone starts to replace the hard callus and bring your bones back to their regular shape.  Rehabilitation exercises and returning to normal activities, where possible, helps your bones to heal further.  This step goes for a long time to continually strengthen your bone.

Rehabilitation after a fracture

Your doctor will recommend a rehabilitation program to help you recover from a fracture and regain your previous level of function. You may be referred to work with a physiotherapist or other healthcare practitioners to help you in this process. The specific types of treatment and rehabilitation will depend on the type of fracture you have suffered. 

If your fracture occured after a minimal trauma, a fall from a standing height or less, this might be a sign of osteoporosis.  Osteoporotic fractures occur most commonly in three places – the wrist, spine and hip, but can occur in other places too. Click here to read more about the wrist, hip and spine fractures.

A fracture is a warning sign for osteoporosis

No fracture should be ignored. If you don’t treat your osteoporosis after a fracture, your bones will continue to weaken, putting you at even greater risk of another, potentially life-altering fracture. In fact, if you have had a fracture, your risk of a future fracture increases up to 10 times.2

The first fracture is often the first symptom of osteoporosis. Do you know that two-thirds of people with one or more fracture aren’t investigated or receive treatment to prevent further fractures?3 If you have suffered a broken bone, talk to your doctor about osteoporosis.

Getting back to everyday life

As you recover from your broken bone, you may need to make some adjustments to help you cope with everyday life and to stay independent. This might mean being careful to understand any limitations you might have when standing, walking, sitting, bending and lifting.  Remember that your family members and carers are there to help you, so ask for help if you need it. Talk to you doctor to see the support options are available in your area, such as a home visit from a care professional.

In addition, make sure to check your home and workplace for trip hazards to reduce your risk of falling. Click here to learn more.

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References

1 Sambrook P, et al. Lancet 2006;367:2010–18.

2 International Osteoporosis Foundation. Spot the signs of a broken spine. 2018. osteoporosis.foundation/educational-hub/material/brochures.

3 Gonnelli S, et al. Osteoporos Int 2013;24:1151–59.

4 Lems WF. Ann Rheum Dis 2007;66:2–4.

5 Xu W, et al. Bone 2011;48:307–11.

6 International Osteoporosis Foundation. Osteoporosis.Risk.Check. 2019. riskcheck.osteoporosis.foundation.

7 Siminoski K, et al. Osteoporos Int 2005;16:403–10.

8 Cosman F, et al. Osteoporos Int 2014;25:2359–81.

9 International Osteoporosis Foundation. Treatment. osteoporosis.foundation/patients/treatment

10 Guglielmi G, et al. Eur Radiol 2008;18:1484–96.