What Are Hand Fractures?
There are many classifications of bone fractures. Treatment can range from simple splinting to casting to operations with metal pins or plates, depending on the type of fracture your child has.
Types of Fractures
Open vs. Closed Fractures
Fractures that happen without tearing the skin are called closed. If there is an opening in the skin, the fracture is called open. Open fractures are more likely to develop infection. Open fractures must be cleaned thoroughly and your child must take antibiotic medication.
Shaft, Growth Plate and Joint Fractures
If fractures are in the middle of the bone and do not involve a joint, they are called shaft fractures. In children, unlike adults, there are growth centers in the flared end of the bones. Fractures in these growth areas are called Salter Harris fractures and can make children's fractures more difficult to treat than a similar fracture in an adult.
A small percentage of growth plate fractures develop a growth arrest that can lead to a short or crooked bone. Growth plate fractures may need to be followed for six to 12 months after healing to ensure proper growth.
If the fracture crosses into the joint, the fracture is intra-articular. Intra-articular fractures, if small, can be treated with temporary splinting and then gentle motion exercises. Larger fractures may require fixation in the operating room. Whenever the joint is involved, there is a possible loss of motion in the joint. There is also the possibility of arthritis. The best results happen when all therapy exercises are done properly and regularly.
Simple vs. Comminuted Fractures
When a clean fracture line can be found with two bone fragments, the fracture is described as a simple fracture. If there are multiple lines of fracture with more than three pieces of bone, the fracture is called comminuted.
Comminuted fractures are more difficult to reduce (put back into place) than simple fractures. Occasionally, even simple fractures in bad spots can be difficult to reduce.
Stable vs. Unstable Fractures
Stable fractures stay put after they have been reduced. In this case, a cast or splint will continue to hold the fracture until it has time to heal. Unstable fractures keep returning to their fractured position after reduction and require some type of hardware (pins, plates, wires, or screws) to keep them in place.
Splints / Casts
Casts and thermoplastic splints are the most common form of treatment to protect finger fractures during healing. Some athletes can continue with contact sports if properly protected during healing.
Prior to Your Orthopedic Appointment
Leave the splint placed on the arm intact. It must stay clean and dry. The bandage will be removed in the office about five to 10 days later. If a cast is required, it will be placed during the clinic visit.
Keep the hand elevated higher than the heart. Have your child use a sling when he / she is walking around. Prop your child's arms on pillows when he / she is sitting or lying down. This simple step will decrease both swelling and throbbing pain. Ice packs are also helpful.
The pain usually decreases rapidly after the first 48 hours. During the first two days, pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen / Motrin may be necessary. The doctor or nurse will give you medication instructions for your child. If pain does not improve after an hour of elevation, ice and pain medicine, contact your child's doctor.
If Your Child is Wearing a Splint or a Cast
It is important to check for signs of swelling every three to four hours check to see that the fingertips are pink and able to wiggle. If there is a change in the motion, or color of the fingers, contact the orthopaedic nurse or doctor.
- Pins generally remain in place four to six weeks.
- Casting or splinting may remain in place for two to six weeks. They must be checked weekly at home for fit and cleanliness.
- Occupational therapy may be necessary following treatment of the fracture. Your child’s participation with therapy is important.
If you need to reach the orthopaedic nurse before 4 pm Monday through Friday, call 513-636-4567. After 4 pm and during weekends and holidays, call 513-636-4200 and ask that the orthopaedic resident on-call be paged.