Jeffrey R. Carlson, MD CPE
In Part I, I discussed how frequently bone fractures occur and surprisingly, can remain untreated. In this second article of the series, I will discuss the how the human body responds when a bone fracture is left untreated, how it tries to heal itself and compensate for the injury. If a person is really fortunate, they will heal well and won’t have issues down the road. Others, well – let’s talk about some of the conditions these patients might have to deal with because of their untreated bone fractures. They are:
- Non-union – this means that the bone just doesn’t heal completely and is typically caused by an under-the-radar infection, lack of blood supply to the bone, or instability of the fracture
- Mal-union – this means the bone heals, but in a deformed or misaligned way – could be shortened or rotated
- Arthritis – although this typically refers to a joint and the presence of cartilage, breaks can happen through or near joints and greatly increase the possibility of the development of arthritis
- Misalignment/length discrepancy of the limbs causing wear and tear on joints – if the bone heals incorrectly and is not in correct alignment, the body will try to adjust and let you carry on with life as best as you can. However, your joints may wear out trying to do so, causing you to have arthritis or your spinal discs to degenerate.
- Infection of the bone or bone marrow – called osteomyelitis when the infection becomes chronic and severe.
- Avascular Necrosis (AVN)– loss of blood supply to the bone resulting in bone death – which is excruciatingly painful.
After digesting that list, I think anyone can understand why it is preferable to get the appropriate treatment for a bone fracture as soon as possible. In the next installment, I’ll discuss how I treat patients who come to me for help with these issues caused by a neglected bone break.