Open Fracture: Definition & Treatment

Instructor: Jennafer Tomlinson
This lesson explores the definition and treatment of an injury called an open fracture. Once you've read this lesson, you'll better understand not only what an open fracture is but how it's caused and treated.

Open Fracture Explanation and Definition

Are you a football fan? If so, you might remember a quarterback by the name of Joe Theismann, whose playing days ended after a tackle caused an open fracture to his right leg. The bones were broken so hard and with such force that the snap of the bones could literally be heard during the game. The force of impact to his right leg caused the bones to protrude right through the skin! This is called an open fracture.

Also commonly called compound fractures, open fractures are serious injuries that result from some sort of blunt force or trauma to the bone. The force of the injury not only breaks the bone but creates an open wound.

This x-ray of an open fracture shows a bone protruding through the skin.
Open Fracture

This type of fracture is considerably more serious than a closed-skin fracture because there is a chance of infection within the wound as well as blood loss from the fracture site. Contamination by dirt, debris, or even clothing is a possibility since there is an opening into the body from the broken bone.

Not all cases of open fracture involve a bone sticking through the skin; in some instances, you can just see the broken bone. To better understand this, think of a gunshot wound through the leg. If a bullet penetrates the leg and breaks the bone, the broken bone might not stick out of the skin, but you'll still be able to see it through the entrance or exit hole of the bullet.

Treatments of an Open Fracture

Treatment of open fractures usually consists of immediate surgery to prevent the broken bone from causing further damage to the organs, muscles, skin, or any other soft tissue surrounding the fracture site. If the open fracture is severe enough, a device to stabilize the bone, called an external fixation device, will be in put in place until surgery begins. An external fixation device includes metal rods, pins, plates and screws that are placed outside of the skin to hold bones together. The pins or screws are drilled into the bone fragments through the skin, and they join the parts of the broken bone.

This x-ray shows an external fixation device.
External Fixation

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