Medical Mythbusters – broken bones

you need x-ray specs to see this!

Q: If I hurt my arm or leg but can still move everything, then it’s not broken, right?

A: Wrong!

Bones are long, hard, mineral-filled struts, if you will; kind of like the wood or metal framing inside a house. The connective tissue matrix, or “nails” holding the “struts” together is made up of ligaments, tendons, and strong sheets of fascia. As the framing of a house is attached to insulation and an exterior (a skin), your skeleton is anchored to the rest of your body via a delightfully complicated system of sturdy connective tissue.

As a result of all this connectedness you can breach the support (the bone) and not necessarily have a breakdown in function. Often only a part of the bone is broken (an avulsion or “chip” fracture) and the broken piece isn’t horribly out of place. If the connective tissue matrix isn’t badly damaged odds are you might be able to keep things moving, even if a joint is involved.  The bottom line: It is possible to move a fractured bone.

So how do you know when something is broken? Sometimes it’s obvious: the bone is sticking out of the skin staring back at you or there is a clear deformity of the affected limb.  If that’s the case, by the way, head directly to the emergency room: do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Often, though, the signs are more subtle and you need x-ray vision to evaluate the damage.  Come in to see us and we’ll help you figure it out. We’ll ask you a bunch of questions, poke around to see where it hurts and if we still aren’t sure, we’ll break out our high-tech digital x-ray machine and get a final answer. 

This baby is really cool.  We can look at the x-rays with you on the computer screen right in our office, and while we’re doing that the images are instantaneously zapped over to the radiologists at the medical center to make sure we don’t miss anything. Almost always, we have a definitive answer before you walk (or limp) out the front door so we can make sure you get the proper follow up care.

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University