All forms of treatment of broken bones follow one basic rule: the broken pieces must be put back into position and prevented from moving out of place until they are healed. In many cases, the doctor will restore parts of a broken bone back to the original position. The technical term for this process is "reduction." Broken bone ends heal by "knitting" back together with new bone being formed around the edge of the broken parts.
Surgery is sometimes required to treat a fracture. The type of treatment required depends on the severity of the break, whether it is "open" or "closed," and the specific bone involved. For example, a broken bone in the spine (vertebra) is treated differently from a broken leg bone or a broken hip.
Doctors use a variety of treatments to treat fractures:
Cast Immobilization. A plaster or fiberglass cast is the most common type of fracture treatment, because most broken bones can heal successfully once they have been repositioned and a cast has been applied to keep the broken ends in proper position while they heal.
Functional Cast or Brace. The cast or brace allows limited or "controlled" movement of nearby joints. This treatment is desirable for some, but not all, fractures.
Traction. Traction is usually used to align a bone or bones by a gentle, steady pulling action.
External Fixation. In this type of operation, metal pins or screws are placed into the broken bone above and below the fracture site. The pins or screws are connected to a metal bar outside the skin. This device is a stabilizing frame that holds the bones in the proper position while they heal.
In cases where the skin and other soft tissues around the fracture are badly damaged, an external fixator may be applied until surgery can be tolerated.
Open Reduction and Internal Fixation. During this operation, the bone fragments are first repositioned (reduced) in their normal alignment, and then held together with special screws or by attaching metal plates to the outer surface of the bone. The fragments may also be held together by inserting rods down through the marrow space in the center of the bone.