About Trauma

The University of Utah orthopaedic trauma specialists are dedicated to providing the best in acute and chronic fracture care. They specialize in the treatment of acute fractures of the extremities and pelvis as well as non-unions and mal-unions of those same bones.

Having access to the latest technology and an experienced team of medical specialists at the University of Utah helps insure that you are receiving the best possible care for your injuries.

Contact Us

(801) 587-7023


What is a fracture?

A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. When a fracture occurs, it is classified as either open or closed:

  • Open fracture (also called compound fracture). The bone exits and is visible through the skin, or a deep wound that exposes the bone through the skin.

  • Closed fracture (also called simple fracture). The bone is broken, but the skin is intact.

Fractures have a variety of names. Some of the common types that may occur are:

  • Greenstick fracture. This is an incomplete fracture. A portion of the bone is broken, causing the other side to bend. This type of fracture is more common in children.

  • Transverse fracture. The break is in a straight line perpendicular to the bone.

  • Spiral fracture. The break spirals around the bone; common in a twisting injury.

  • Oblique fracture. The break is diagonal across the bone.

  • Compression fracture. The bone is crushed, causing the broken bone to be wider or flatter in appearance.

  • Comminuted. The break is in 3 or more pieces and fragments are present at the fracture site.

  • Segmental. The same bone is fractured in two places, so there is a "floating" segment of bone.

What causes a fracture?

Fractures occur when there is more force applied to the bone than the bone can absorb. Breaks in bones can occur from falls, trauma, or as a result of a direct blow or kick to the body.

What are the symptoms of a fracture?

The following are the most common symptoms of a fracture. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the injured area

  • Swelling in the injured area

  • Obvious deformity in the injured area

  • Difficulty using or moving the injured area in a normal manner

  • Warmth, bruising, or redness in the injured area

The symptoms of a broken bone may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is a fracture diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history (including asking how the injury occurred) and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a fracture may include the following:

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

Treatment for a fracture

Specific treatment for a fracture will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Location and type of fracture

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment is to control the pain, promote healing, prevent complications, and restore normal use of the fractured area.

An open fracture (one in which the bone exits and is visible through the skin, or a deep wound that exposes the bone through the skin) is considered an emergency. Seek immediate medical attention for this type of fracture.

Treatment may include:

  • Splint or cast. This immobilizes the injured area to promote bone alignment and healing to protect the injured area from motion or use.

  • Medication. This is taken to control pain.

  • Traction. Traction is the application of a force to stretch certain parts of the body in a specific direction. Traction consists of pulleys, strings, weights, and a metal frame attached over or on the bed. The purpose of traction is to stretch the muscles and tendons around the broken bone to allow the bone ends to align and heal.

  • Surgery. Surgery may be required to put certain types of broken bones back into place. Occasionally, internal fixation (metal rods or pins located inside the bone) or external fixation devices (metal rods or pins located outside of the body) are used to hold the bone fragments in place to allow alignment and healing.

Smoking and the musculoskeletal system

Smoking takes a significant toll on your musculoskeletal system. Tobacco and nicotine increase the risk of bone fractures and interfere with the healing process, according to a growing body of research. Nicotine can slow fracture healing, estrogen effectiveness, and can counter the antioxidant properties of vitamin C. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, research on the topic of smoking and its effect on the musculoskeletal system was reviewed. Some of the orthopedic problems caused by smoking include:

  • More severe disk degeneration

  • Increased risk for a hip fracture with age

  • An association with low back pain

  • Weakened spinal ligaments

  • Reduced production of bone cells

  • Faster bone loss in postmenopausal women

  • Fractures take longer to heal

  • Association with rotator cuff disease 

  • Longer healing time for surgical incisions

  • More post-surgery complications

  • Delayed spinal fusion

However, quitting smoking seems to improve the healing process in many cases.

Shannon L. Boffeli, APRN

Family Nurse Practitioner at the University of Utah Hospital and Orthopaedic Center is the nurse practitioner for the orthopaedic trauma team. His clinical interests include fractures of the long bones and pelvis and nonunions. Shannon has worked as a Nurse Practitioner in the University of Utah Department of Orthopaedic Trauma since 2003. Shan... Read More

Thomas F. Higgins, M.D.

Dr. Thomas Higgins is an Associate Professor with Tenure at the University of Utah, Department of Orthopaedics. His medical degree was completed at Brown University, School of Medicine. His orthopaedic training was at Yale University, and post-graduate fellowship at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. He has been on the faculty ... Read More


Orthopaedic Surgery, Orthopaedic Trauma, Trauma Surgery


Primary Children's Hospital (801) 587-7109
University Orthopaedic Center (801) 587-7109

Sandy K. Johnson, PA-C

Sandy Johnson is a nationally certified Physician Assistant who specializes in total joint replacement and traumatic fracture care. Her clinical focus includes anterior approach aka minimally invasive hip replacement, care of nonunion and malunion fractures, and revision total joint arthroplasty. In our clinic she provides and coordinates preope... Read More

Erik N. Kubiak, M.D.

Erik Kubiak, MD is an Associate Professor in The Department of Orthopaedics. As an Orthopaedic Trauma and Adult Reconstruction surgeon, Dr. Kubiak's clinical interests include treatment and reconstruction of pelvic trauma and high-energy articular injuries involving the tibia, femur, elbow, and shoulder. As part of the Adult Reconstruction service... Read More

Florian Nickisch, M.D.

Dr. Florian Nickisch, Associate Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics specializes in the care of the foot and ankle and traumatic injuries to the lower extremity. Dr. Nickisch’s clinical interests include acute and subacute traumatic injuries to the foot and ankle (Achilles Tendon ruptures, calcaneus fractures, talus fractures midfoot fractur... Read More

David Rothberg, M.D.

David L Rothberg, MD. - His area of clinical expertise includes pelvic and acetabular trauma, non-union/mal-union, peri-articular fractures, pediatric orthopaedic trauma, and post-traumatic reconstruction. He is an instructor in the Department of Orthopaedics, He has a clinical practice at the University of Utah Hospital and Clinics, Primary Child... Read More

University Orthopaedic Center 590 Wakara Way
Salt Lake City, UT 84108
South Jordan Health Center 5126 W. Daybreak Parkway
South Jordan, UT 84095
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