LEARNING OBJECTIVE: Select the appropriate stabilization and treatment procedure for the management of bone injuries.

A break in a bone is called a fracture. There are two main kinds of fractures. A closed fracture is one in which the injury is entirely internal; the bone is broken but there is no break in the skin. An open fracture is one in which there is an open wound in the tissues and the skin. Sometimes the open wound is made when a sharp end of the broken bone pushes out through the flesh; sometimes it is made by an object such as a bullet that penetrates from the outside.

Figure 4-34 shows closed and open fractures.

Figure 4-34.—Fractures: A. Closed; B. Open.

Open fractures are more serious than closed fractures. They usually involve extensive damage to the tissues and are quite likely to become infected. Closed fractures are sometimes turned into open fractures by rough or careless handling of the victim.

It is not always easy to recognize a fracture. All fractures, whether closed or open, are likely to cause severe pain and shock; but the other symptoms may vary considerably. A broken bone sometimes causes the injured part to be deformed or to assume an unnatural position. Pain, discoloration, and swelling may be localized at the fracture site, and there may be a

wobbly movement if the bone is broken clear through. It may be difficult or impossible for the victim to move the injured part; if able to move it, there may be a grating sensation (crepitus) as the ends of the broken bone rub against each other. However, if a bone is cracked rather than broken through, the victim may be able to move the injured part without much difficulty. An open fracture is easy to recognize if an end of the broken bone protrudes through the flesh. If the bone does not protrude, however, you might see the external wound but fail to recognize the broken bone.

General Guidelines

If you are required to give first aid to a person who has suffered a fracture, you should follow these general guidelines:

Now that we have seen the general rules for treating fractures, we turn to the symptoms and emergency treatment of specific fracture sites.

Forearm Fracture

There are two long bones in the forearm, the radius and the ulna. When both are broken, the arm usually appears to be deformed. When only one is broken, the other acts as a splint and the arm retains a more or less natural appearance. Any fracture of the forearm is likely to result in pain, tenderness, inability to use the forearm, and a kind of wobbly motion at the point of injury. If the fracture is open, a bone will show through.

If the fracture is open, stop the bleeding and treat the wound. Apply a sterile dressing over the wound. Carefully straighten the forearm. (Remember that rough handling of a closed fracture may turn it into an open fracture.) Apply a pneumatic splint if available; if not, apply two well-padded splints to the forearm, one on the top and one on the bottom. Be sure that the splints are long enough to extend from the elbow to the wrist. Use bandages to hold the splints in place. Put the forearm across the chest. The palm of the hand should be turned in, with the thumb pointing upward. Support the forearm in this position by means of a wide sling and a cravat bandage, as shown in figure 4-35. The hand should be raised about 4 inches above the level of the elbow. Treat the victim for shock and evacuate as soon as possible.

Figure 4-35.—First aid for a fractured forearm.

Upper Arm Fracture

The signs of fracture of the upper arm include pain, tenderness, swelling, and a wobbly motion at the point of fracture. If the fracture is near the elbow, the arm is likely to be straight with no bend at the elbow.

If the fracture is open, stop the bleeding and treat the wound before attempting to treat the fracture.


Treatment of the fracture depends partly upon the location of the break.

If the fracture is in the upper part of the arm near the shoulder, place a pad or folded towel in the armpit, bandage the arm securely to the body, and support the forearm in a narrow sling.

If the fracture is in the middle of the upper arm, you can use one well-padded splint on the outside of the arm. The splint should extend from the shoulder to the elbow. Fasten the splinted arm firmly to the body and support the forearm in a narrow sling, as shown in figure 4-36.

Figure 4-36.—Splint and sling for a fractured upper arm.

Another way of treating a fracture in the middle of the upper arm is to fasten two wide splints (or four narrow ones) about the arm and then support the forearm in a narrow sling. If you use a splint between the arm and the body, be very careful that it does not extend too far up into the armpit; a splint in this position can cause a dangerous compression of the blood vessels and nerves and may be extremely painful to the victim.

If the fracture is at or near the elbow, the arm may be either bent or straight. No matter in what position you find the arm, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO STRAIGHTEN IT OR MOVE IT IN ANY WAY. Splint the arm as carefully as possible in the position in which you find it. This will prevent further nerve and blood vessel damage. The only exception to this is if there is no pulse distal to the fracture, in which case gentle traction is applied and then the arm is splinted. Treat the victim for shock and get him under the care of a physician as soon as possible.

Thigh Fracture

The femur is the long bone of the upper part of the leg between the kneecap and the pelvis. When the femur is fractured through, any attempt to move the limb results in a spasm of the muscles and causes excruciating pain. The leg has a wobbly motion, and there is complete loss of control below the fracture. The limb usually assumes an unnatural position, with the toes pointing outward. By actual measurement, the fractured leg is shorter than the uninjured one because of contraction of the powerful thigh muscles. Serious damage to blood vessels and nerves often results from a fracture of the femur, and shock is likely to be severe.

If the fracture is open, stop the bleeding and treat the wound before attempting to treat the fracture itself. Serious bleeding is a special danger in this type of injury, since the broken bone may tear or cut the large artery in the thigh.

Carefully straighten the leg. Apply two splints, one on the outside of the injured leg and one on the inside. The outside splint should reach from the armpit to the foot. The inside splint should reach from the crotch to the foot. The splints should be fastened in five places: (1) around the ankle; (2) over the knee; (3) just below the hip; (4) around the pelvis; and (5) just below the armpit (fig. 4-37). The legs can then be tied together to support the injured leg as firmly as possible.

Figure 4-37.—Splint for a fractured femur.

It is essential that a fractured thigh be splinted before the victim is moved. Manufactured splints, such as the Hare or the Thomas half-ring traction splints, are best, but improvised splints may be used. Figure 4-37 shows how boards may be used as an emergency splint for a fractured thigh. Remember, DO NOT MOVE THE VICTIM UNTIL THE INJURED LEG HAS BEEN IMMOBILIZED. Treat the victim for shock, and evacuate at the earliest possible opportunity.

Lower Leg Fracture

When both bones of the lower leg are broken, the usual signs of fracture are likely to be present. When only one bone is broken, the other one acts as a splint and, to some extent, prevents deformity of the leg. However, tenderness, swelling, and pain at the point of fracture are almost always present. A fracture just above the ankle is often mistaken for a sprain. If both bones of the lower leg are broken, an open fracture is very likely to result.

If the fracture is open, stop the bleeding and treat the wound. Carefully straighten the injured leg. Apply a pneumatic splint if available; if not, apply three splints, one on each side of the leg and one underneath. Be sure that the splints are well padded, particularly under the knee and at the bones on each side of the ankle.

A pillow and two side splints work very well for treatment of a fractured lower leg. Place the pillow beside the injured leg, then carefully lift the leg and place it in the middle of the pillow. Bring the edges of the pillow around to the front of the leg and pin them together. Then place one splint on each side of the leg (over the pillow), and fasten them in place with strips ofbandage or adhesive tape. Treat the victim for shock and evacuate as soon as possible. When available, you may use the Hare or Thomas half-ring traction splints.

Kneecap Fracture

The following first aid treatment should be given for a fractured kneecap (patella):

Carefully straighten the injured limb. Immobilize the fracture by placing a padded board under the injured limb. The board should be at least 4 inches wide and should reach from the buttock to the heel. Place extra padding under the knee and just above the heel, as shown in figure 4-38. Use strips of bandage to fasten the leg to the board in four places: (1)just below the knee; (2) just above the knee; (3) at the ankle; and (4) at the thigh. Do not cover the knee itself. Swelling is likely to occur very rapidly, and any bandage or tie fastened over the knee would quickly become too tight. Treat the victim for shock and evacuate as soon as possible.

Figure 4-38.—Immobilization of a fractured patella.

Clavicle Fracture

A person with a fractured clavicle usually shows definite symptoms. When the victim stands, the injured shoulder is lower than the uninjured one. The victim is usually unable to raise the arm above the level of the shoulder and may attempt to support the injured shoulder by holding the elbow of that side in the other hand. This is the characteristic position of a person with a broken clavicle. Since the clavicle lies immediately under the skin, you may be able to detect the point of fracture by the deformity and localized pain and tenderness.

If the fracture is open, stop the flow of blood and treat the wound before attempting to treat the fracture. Then apply a sling and swathe splint as described below (and illustrated in figure 4-39).

Figure 4-39.—Sling for immobilizing fractured clavicle.

Bend the victim’s arm on the injured side, and place the forearm across the chest. The palm of the hand should be turned in, with the thumb pointed up. The hand should be raised about 4 inches above the level of the elbow. Support the forearm in this position by means of a wide sling. A wide roller bandage (or any wide strip of cloth) may be used to secure the victim’s arm to the body (see figure 4-35). A figure-eight bandage may also be used for a fractured clavicle. Treat the victim for shock and evacuate to a definitive care facility as soon as possible.

Rib Fracture

If a rib is broken, make the victim comfortable and quiet so that the greatest dangerthe possibility of further damage to the lungs, heart, or chest wall by the broken endsis minimized.

The common finding in all victims with fractured ribs is pain localized at the site of the fracture. By asking the patient to point out the exact area ofthe pain, you can often determine the location of the injury. There may or may not be a rib deformity, chest wall contusion, or laceration of the area. Deep breathing, coughing, or movement is usually painful. The patient generally wishes to remain still and may often lean toward the injured side, with a hand over the fractured area to immobilize the chest and to ease the pain.

Ordinarily, rib fractures are not bound, strapped, or taped if the victim is reasonably comfortable. However, they may be splinted by the use of external support. If the patient is considerably more comfortable with the chest immobilized, the best method is to use a swathe (fig. 4-40) in which the arm on the injured side is strapped to the chest to limit motion. Place the arm on the injured side against the chest, with the palm flat, thumb up, and the forearm raised to a 45° angle. Immobilize the chest, using wide strips of bandage to secure the arm to the chest.

Figure 4-40.—Swathe bandage of fractured rib victim.

Do not use wide strips of adhesive plaster applied directly to the skin of the chest for immobilization since the adhesive tends to limit the ability of the chest to expand (interfering with proper breathing). Treat the victim for shock and evacuate as soon as possible.

Nose Fracture

A fracture of the nose usually causes localized pain and swelling, a noticeable deformity of the nose, and extensive nosebleed.

Stop the nosebleed. Have the victim sit quietly, with the head tipped slightly backward. Tell the victim to breathe through the mouth and not to blow the nose. If the bleeding does not stop within a few minutes, apply a cold compress or an ice bag over the nose.

Treat the victim for shock. Ensure the victim receives a physician’s attention as soon as possible. Permanent deformity of the nose may result if the fracture is not treated promptly.

Jaw Fracture

A person who has a fractured jaw may suffer serious interference with breathing. There is likely to be great difficulty in talking, chewing, or swallowing. Any movement of the jaw causes pain. The teeth may be out of line, and there may be bleeding from the gums. Considerable swelling may develop.

One of the most important phases of emergency care is to clear the upper respiratory passage of any obstruction. If the fractured jaw interferes with breathing, pull the lower jaw and the tongue well forward and keep them in that position.

Apply a four-tailed bandage, as shown in figure 4-41. Be sure that the bandage pulls the lower jaw forward. Never apply a bandage that forces the jaw backward, since this might seriously interfere with breathing. The bandage must be firm so that it will support and immobilize the injured jaw, but it must not press against the victim’s throat. Be sure that the victim has scissors or a knife to cut the bandage in case of vomiting. Treat the victim for shock and evacuate as soon as possible.

Figure 4-41.—Four-tailed bandage for the jaw.

Skull Fracture

When a person suffers a head injury, the greatest danger is that the brain may be severely damaged; whether or not the skull is fractured is a matter of secondary importance. In some cases, injuries that fracture the skull do not cause serious brain damage; but brain damage canand frequently doesresult from apparently slight injuries that do not cause damage to the skull itself.

It is often difficult to determine whether an injury has affected the brain because the symptoms of brain damage vary greatly. A person suffering from a head injury must be handled very carefully and given immediate medical attention.

Some of the symptoms that may indicate brain damage are listed below. However, you must remember that all of these symptoms are not always present in any one case and that the symptoms that do occur may be greatly delayed.

Bruises or wounds of the scalp may indicate that the victim has sustained a blow to the head. Sometimes the skull is depressed (caved in) at the point of impact. If the fracture is open, you may find glass, shrapnel, or other objects penetrating the skull.

It is not necessary to determine if the skull is fractured when you are giving first aid to a person who has suffered a head injury. The treatment is the same in either case, and the primary intent is to prevent further damage to the brain.

Keep the victim lying down. If the face is flushed, raise the head and shoulders slightly. If the face is pale, have the victim lie so that the head is level with, or slightly lower than, the body. Watch carefully for vomiting. If the victim begins to vomit, position the head to prevent choking on the vomitus.

If there is serious bleeding from the wounds, try to control that bleeding by the application of direct pressure, using caution to avoid further injury to the skull or brain. Use a donut-shaped bandage to gently surround protruding objects. Never manipulate those objects.

Spinal Fractures

If the spine is fractured at any point, the spinal cord may be crushed, cut, or otherwise damaged so severely that death or paralysis will result. However, if the fracture occurs in such a way that the spinal cord is not seriously damaged, there is a very good chance of complete recovery, provided that the victim is properly cared for. Any twisting or bending of the neck or backwhether due to the original injury or carelessness from handling lateris likely to cause irreparable damage to the spinal cord.

The primary symptoms of a fractured spine are pain, shock, and paralysis. Pain is likely to be acute at the point of fracture. It may radiate to other parts ofthe body. Shock is usually severe, but (as in all injuries) the symptoms may be delayed for some time. Paralysis occurs if the spinal cord is seriously damaged. If the victim cannot move the legs, feet, or toes, the fracture is probably in the back; if the fingers will not move, the neck is probably broken. Remember that a spinal fracture does not always injure the spinal cord, so the victim is not always paralyzed. Any person who has an acute pain in the back or the neck following an injury should be treated as though there is a fractured spine, even ifthere are no other symptoms.

Emergency treatment for all spinal fractures, whether of the neck or of the back, has two primary purposes: (1) to minimize shock, and (2) to prevent further injury to the spinal cord. Keep the victim comfortably warm. Do not attempt to keep the victim in the position ordinarily used for the treatment of shock, because it might cause further damage to the spinal cord. Just keep the victim lying flat and do NOT attempt to lower the head.

To avoid further damage to the spinal cord, DO NOT MOVE THE VICTIM UNLESS IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL! If the victim’s life is threatened in the present location or transportation is necessary to receive medical attention, then, of course, you must move the victim. However, if movement is necessary, be sure that you do it in a way that will cause the least possible damage. DO NOT BEND OR TWIST THE VICTIM’S BODY, DO NOT MOVE THE HEAD FORWARD, BACKWARD, OR SIDEWAYS, AND DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOW THE VICTIM TO SIT UP.

If it is necessary to transport a person who has suffered a fracture of the spine, follow these general rules:

Figure 4-42.—Straddle-slide method of moving spinal cord injury victim onto a backboard.

Figure 4-43.—Log-roll method of moving spinal cord injury victim onto a backboard.

Pelvic Fracture

Fractures in the pelvic region often result from falls, heavy blows, and accidents that involve crushing. The great danger in a pelvic fracture is that the organs enclosed and protected by the pelvis may be seriously damaged when the bony structure is fractured. In particular, there is danger that the bladder will be ruptured. There is also danger of severe internal bleeding; the large blood vessels in the pelvic region may be torn or cut by fragments of the broken bone.

The primary symptoms of a fractured pelvis are severe pain, shock, and loss of ability to use the lower part of the body. The victim is unable to sit or stand. If the victim is conscious, there may be a sensation of “coming apart.” If the bladder is injured, the victim’s urine may be bloody.

Do not move the victim unless ABSOLUTELY necessary. The victim should be treated for shock and kept warm but should not be moved into the position ordinarily used for the treatment of shock.

If you must transport the victim to another place, do it with the utmost care. Use a rigid stretcher, a padded door, or a wide board. Keep the victim supine. In some cases, the victim will be more comfortable if the legs are straight, while in other cases the victim will be more comfortable with the knees bent and the legs drawn up. When you have placed the victim in the most comfortable position, immobilization should be accomplished. Fractures of the hip are best treated with traction splints. Adequate immobilization can also be obtained by placing pillows or folded blankets between the legs as shown in figure 4-44 and using cravats, roller bandages, or straps to hold the legs together, or through the use of MAST garments. Fasten the victim securely to the stretcher or improvised support, and evacuate very carefully.

Figure 4-44.—Immobilizing a fractured pelvis.