When you experience a bone break (also known as a fracture), it’s important that the bone can heal properly in its original position. There are several treatments for a broken bone, and the one a doctor recommends is based upon several factors. These include how severe the break is and where it is. While some bones can heal by wearing a cast, others may require more invasive treatments, such as bone fracture repair.
Bone fracture repair is a surgery to fix a broken bone using metal screws, pins, rods, or plates to hold the bone in place. It’s also known as open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) surgery.
Bone fracture repair is used when a broken bone does not or would not heal properly with casting or splinting alone. Improper healing that requires ORIF surgery can occur in cases when the bone is sticking through the skin (compound fractures) and fractures that involve joints, such as wrists and ankles. If bones that are surrounding the joints could not be repaired, a person’s functional mobility could be severely impacted.
Tell your doctor about your medical history, including any chronic conditions or prior surgeries. Also tell your doctor about any medications you are taking or are allergic to, including over-the-counter medicines and supplements.
Your doctor will also ask for imaging tests to view exactly where the bone has broken. Examples could include X-rays, CT scans, and MRI.
The day before your procedure, your doctor will likely recommend that you do not eat anything after midnight. You should have someone drive you to the hospital or surgery center and be prepared to take you home after your procedure.
Complications from this surgery are very rare. These complications may include:
- an allergic reaction to anesthesia
- blood clots
You can minimize your risk for complications by disclosing all medical conditions and medications you’re taking as well as following your doctor’s post-procedure orders carefully. This can include instructions on keeping your dressing clean and dry.
Bone fracture repair surgery can take several hours. You may be given general anesthesia to put you to sleep during your surgery or local anesthesia to numb only the broken limb.
The surgeon will begin by making an incision in your skin above the fracture. Your skin and muscle will be pulled back so that the surgeon can access the broken bone.
The fractured bone is then set into place. Your surgeon may use metal screws, pins, rods, or plates to secure the bone in place. These can be either temporary or permanent.
Your doctor might recommend a bone graft if your bone shattered into fragments during your original injury. This procedure uses bone from a different part of your body or from a donor to replace the portions of bone that were lost.
Blood vessels that were damaged during your injury will be repaired during surgery.
When the broken bone has been set properly, your surgeon will close the incision wound with stitches or staples and wrap it in a clean dressing. Your injured limb will most likely be put in a cast after the procedure is complete.
Your doctor will tell you the expected recovery time for healing your fracture. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this process will typically take six to eight weeks. However, this time frame can vary based on the fracture type and location.
Immediately after the procedure, you will be taken to a recovery room. Here, hospital staff will monitor your blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and temperature. Depending on the extent of your injury and surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital overnight or longer, depending on your progress after surgery.
There will be some pain and swelling after the surgery. Icing, elevating, and resting the broken limb can help to reduce inflammation. Your doctor will also prescribe painkillers to ease your discomfort. However, if your pain starts to worsen after a few days instead of getting better, call your physician.
Your doctor will give you instructions about how to care for your stitches or staples. As a general rule, you will want to keep the surgical site clean and dry. Your doctor will often place a surgical bandage over the site that they will remove at a follow-up visit. You can expect some numbness at the incision site, but call your doctor if you begin to experience:
- foul-smelling drainage
Your doctor will also likely recommend physical therapy to help you strengthen and stretch the muscles around the injured bone. This will aid in healing as well as ideally help to prevent further injury.
While it’s easy to think of your bones as a solid piece of material, they actually have many blood vessels that can promote healing. With time, your body will start to grow new threads of blood cells that will ultimately grow back together, helping to heal the bone. Just remember that even though the fracture has been repaired, it can happen again. Practice caution whenever possible to prevent re-injury. This can include eating a diet rich in bone-boosting foods, such as those that contain calcium and vitamin D. Wearing protective gear, such as pads, braces, or a helmet can all help you prevent a future fracture.