All About Comminuted Fractures (2024)

A comminuted fracture is when a bone breaks into three or more pieces. These typically require surgery and take longer to heal than other fractures.

A comminuted fracture happens when you break a bone into three or more pieces.

You’ll usually need surgery to repair a comminuted fracture and treat related complications. Doctors may use hardware like rods and screws to attach the pieces of bone. These stay in your bones permanently.

Read on to learn more about the common causes of a comminuted fracture, what symptoms to watch out for, and how doctors diagnose and treat them.

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Comminuted fractures are usually due to major impact injuries when something hits your body with a lot of force, often at high speeds.

These injuries can happen for many reasons. Some of the most frequent causes include:

  • car accidents
  • sports injuries
  • falls from a great height

The most common symptom of a comminuted fracture is pain near the broken bones. The pain might be more intense depending on how many places the bone’s broken.

Putting weight or pressure on the area where the bones have broken, such as by walking on a broken leg, might also make the pain worse.

Other symptoms that might indicate you have a comminuted fracture include:

  • swelling around the site of the break
  • bruising on the skin above the break
  • tingling feeling or lack of sensation near the break
  • the affected body part, such as an arm or leg, being at an unusual angle
  • not being able to move the affected body part without intense pain or stiffness

When to seek medical help

Seek immediate medical help if you’ve been involved in a serious accident or injured at a high impact, such as during a car accident or athletic activity.

This is especially critical if you’re experiencing intense pain or can’t move the injured body part.

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A doctor will likely order X-rays to get images of the affected bones and find where your bone has broken. An X-ray will also help them determine how many parts of the bone have broken off from each other.

The doctor may also order other imaging, such as MRI or CT, to look more closely at areas where tissues or organs might be damaged.

Surgery can help bring the pieces of the bone back together and make sure the bone heals well so you don’t lose any function in the affected area, such as your arm or leg.

Here are some of the surgical treatments a doctor might use to treat a comminuted fracture:

  • Internal fixation: In this procedure, the doctor opens an area near where the bone has broken to bring the pieces back together. They’ll fix them together with rods, plates, screws, pins, and wires that can hold the bones in place as they grow back together and heal.
  • External fixation: For complex injuries not quite ready for operation, a doctor may insert screws into the fractured bones and attach them to a device, such as a brace, around the affected area. This device helps keep the screws in place while the bone heals and allows other internal injuries to heal.
  • Bone grafting: To replace badly damaged bone that can’t be repaired, a doctor may use a bone graft, which is tissue from one of your other bones, a donor, or artificial materials. They may also use internal fixation to help keep your new and existing bones in place while they heal and grow together.

You’ll usually need to wear a cast, brace, or splint to keep your bones from moving around too much while they heal. You may need to wear this for a few months or more, depending on how severe your injury is.

Tips for home management of comminuted fractures

Here are some tips for managing the symptoms of your comminuted fracture at home:

  • Don’t use or put weight on the area affected by the broken bones.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medications, but don’t use ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that can increase your risk of internal bleeding.
  • Use a cold compress to relieve pain near any areas that are swollen.
  • Attend any physical therapy a doctor recommends to regain as much function from the affected area as possible.

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Comminuted fractures take longer to heal than most other types of broken bones. And the more severe the fracture, the more likely it may not fully heal.

But getting treated quickly after an injury can help you heal faster. And going to physical therapy as a doctor instructs can also help you regain function in the affected area.

Children are more likely to face complications from comminuted fractures because their bones are still developing.

A 2023 study of more than 101,000 children found that high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and seizures were commonly linked to a longer hospital stay.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about comminuted fractures.

What is the recovery time for a comminuted fracture?

Comminuted fractures may take longer to heal than simpler fractures because several breaks are healing at once.

These types of fractures can take up to a year to heal, depending on the fracture’s complexity and how well you’re able to tolerate surgery, physical therapy, and other treatments.

The bone itself may not fully heal for months to years as bone is restored and regains its function.

What is the difference between a comminuted and a segmental fracture?

Segmental fractures occur when there are at least two complete fracture lines in the bone, causing a “segment” of bone to be separated between the two lines.

A comminuted fracture happens when three or more pieces of bone have been broken apart from the original bone. The fracture lines don‘t always cause a separate bone segment. But some segmental fractures can also be comminuted.

What is the difference between a comminuted and a compound fracture?

A compound fracture is also called an open fracture. This means the broken bone has pierced through your skin and is usually visible.

A comminuted fracture can be considered a compound fracture if it’s gone through the skin and has broken into three or more pieces.

Comminuted fractures happen when your bone breaks into three or more pieces. Treatment typically involves surgery and rest. Still, they may take a long time to heal.

Seek immediate medical help if you’re seriously injured and experience sudden, intense pain anywhere in your body, especially your arms or legs.

All About Comminuted Fractures (2024)
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