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.
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. Below is a listing of the common types that may occur:
Greenstick. This is an incomplete fracture. A portion of the bone is broken, causing the other side to bend.
Transverse. The break is in a straight line across the bone.
Spiral. The break spirals around the bone; common in a twisting injury.
Oblique. The break is diagonal across the bone.
Compression. The bone is crushed, causing the broken bone to be wider or flatter in appearance.
Comminuted. The break is in three 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.
Fractures occur when there is more force applied to the bone than the bone can absorb. Bones are weakest when they are twisted. Breaks in bones can occur from falls, trauma, or as a result of a direct blow or kick to the body.
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.
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 which 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.
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 or 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 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 vitamins C and E. 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
Rotator cuff surgery is less successful
Longer healing time for surgical incisions
More post-surgery complications
Delayed spinal fusion
However, quitting smoking seems to improve the healing process in most cases, except for long-term, heavy smokers who have permanent artery damage, according to the researchers. Those with permanent artery damage due to smoking may not heal easily when a peripheral part of the body is involved, since blood supply may be poor there.
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Superbike racer Shane Turpin normally rides his production-based sport bike on a smooth asphalt track, but in February 2010, he went to a Tooele motocross track with some friends for a fun afternoon spent riding dirtbikes. When he took a jump and landed badly, the result was a freak accident that left him with broken legs and crushed ankles. “I didn’t jump far enough and landed on the frame of the motorcycle,” says Turpin.
Doctors who first saw Turpin after his accident gave him grim news: he would never walk again or compete as a professional superbike racer. “The doctor said ‘I’m sorry. I can’t do anything for you.’” But Turpin wasn’t ready to wave the white flag.
He was transported to two other hospitals before going to the U. “I didn’t want another lecture,” he says. “I wanted them to fix me. I told them to take me up to the U.” When Turpin arrived at University Hospital he met the first doctor who offered him a ray of hope. “He showed interest. He said he would have me on a motorcycle in no time. Just that positive vibe said a lot.”
University physician Erik Kubiak, M.D., took a special interest in Turpin’s case. “He didn’t yell at me or make me feel stupid, he just fixed my legs,” Turpin says. Kubiak took a closer look at his crushed legs and found that Turpin’s limbs were so swollen that blood circulation was being cut off. “They said my legs were dying.” He was given two options: undergo immediate surgery to try to save his legs or face certain amputation if they didn’t operate. There was only one choice for Turpin—surgery. “I didn’t care about the consequences, I just needed my legs,” he says.
Dr. Kubiak was spot-on with his prognosis. Less than two months after surgery, and with his legs only partially healed, Turpin got back on his bike and took the track like a true champion. “I went out and set the fastest lap of the day with my legs broken.” After getting the red light from multiple doctors, it was Dr. Kubiak who gave him the green light to take the racing world by the throttle again. “I’ve never met a doctor like him,” Turpin says. “Erik was a game changer. He’s like a hero to me.”
Turpin knows exactly where to go if he gets injured again. “I’ll just go back to the U.” That’s where he found a doctor who offered him hope and a solution to getting back on his feet and ultimately back to doing what he loves— competing on his bike.
Now, this superbike racer is back on track, taking life one lap at a time.