Fracture Complications

Original Editor - lucinda hampton

Top Contributors - Lucinda hampton and Naomi O'Reilly  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

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Most bone injuries heal normally. But some patients do experience complications during the healing process. Complications of fractures fall into two categories: early and delayed.

  1. Early complications include shock, fat embolism, compartment syndrome, deep vein thrombosis, thromboembolism (pulmonary embolism), disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, and infection.
  2. Delayed complications include delayed union and nonunion, avascular necrosis of bone, reaction to internal fixation devices, complex regional pain syndrome, and heterotrophic ossification.[1]

Early Complications[edit | edit source]

Early complications include shock, compartment syndrome, fat embolism, thromboembolism (pulmonary embolism), deep vein thrombosis, disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, and infection.

Intervention Description Signs and Symptoms Action to Take
Shock Hypovolemic or traumatic shock resulting from hemorrhage and from loss of extracellular fluid into damaged tissues may occur in fractures of the extremities, thorax, pelvis, or spine. Because the bone is very vascular, large quantities of blood may be lost as a result of trauma, especially in fractures of the femur and pelvis.
  • Anxiety or Agitation.
  • Cool, Clammy Skin or Sweating, Moist Skin
  • Confusion
  • Decreased or No Urine Output
  • Generalised Weakness
  • Pale Skin Color (Pallor)
  • Rapid Breathing
  • Urgent Medical Team Review
  • Management includes restoration of blood volume and circulation, relieving the patient’s pain, providing adequate splinting, and protecting the patient from further injury and other complications.
Rhabdomyolysis Risk Factors:
  • Crush Injury (resulting in muscle damage with byproducts damaging the kidneys)


Timeframe:

  • Usually occurs in the very acute phase (around 1-3 days) post-injury
  • Significant Muscle Pain
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Tea-colored urine
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Urgent Medical Team Review Requires immediate action from the medical team
  • Management includes fluid resuscitation and the management of associated renal failure
Compartment Syndrome Risk Factors:
  • Tibial or Forearm Fractures
  • High-energy Wrist Fractures
  • Crush Injuries


Timeframe:

  • Usually occurs in the very acute phase, post-injury
  • Pain out of proportion to the associated injury
  • Pain on passive movement of the muscles of the involved compartments
  • Severe Swelling
  • Neurovascular Changes - 5P’s
  • MEDICAL EMERGENCY
  • Inform the surgeon immediately. Requires immediate action.
  • Remove any cast, splint of circumferential dressing and elevate limb to heart level.
  • May require emergency fasciotomy
Fat Embolism Syndrome Risk Factors:


Timeframe:

  • Occurs Very Acute Phase Post-injury (24 to 72 hours)
  • Rapid Onset
  • Urgent Medical Team Review. Requires immediate action.
  • Check Observations
  • Administer oxygen if required and if this is within your
  • scope of practice
Pulmonary Embolism Risk Factors
  • Serious Limb Injury Surgery
  • Prolonged Bed Rest
  • Static Lower Limb Posture for more than 6 hours
  • Trauma and Spinal Cord Injury
  • Smoking
  • Oral Contraceptives
  • Hormone Replacement Therapy
  • Cancer
  • Chemotherapy
  • Pregnancy and Post-Partum Period
  • Advanced Age (>40 years old)
  • Immobilizer or Cast
  • Central Venous Catheterization


Timeframe:

  • Patient is most at risk in the acute phase and first three months post-injury
  • Pyrexia
  • Dyspnea and/or Tachypnea
  • Crackles
  • Second Heart Sound
  • Pleuritic Chest Pain
  • Profuse Sweating
  • Haemoptysis
  • Tachycardia
  • Hypotension
  • Lightheaded / Dizzy
  • Syncope
  • Cyanosis
  • Urgent Medical Team Review. Requires immediate action.
  • Check Observations
  • Administer oxygen if required and if this is within your scope of practice
Deep Vein Thrombosis Usually in the calf but can also occur in upper limbs. This can progress to a Pulmonary Embolism, which may cause death several days to weeks after injury. (see above)

Risk Factors

  • Reduced Skeletal Muscle Contractions
  • Bed Rest.
  • Lower Limb Fractures
  • Pelvic Fractures


Timeframe:

  • Patient is most at risk in the acute phase and first three months post-injury
  • Swollen, Hard, Painful Limb
  • Tender to Touch
  • Heat
  • Discolouration (usually red but can be blueish-grey)
  • Inform Medical Team
  • Check whether the team is happy for the patient to mobilise
Disseminated Intravascular Coagulopathy (DIC) Group of bleeding disorders with diverse causes, including massive tissue trauma.
  • Ecchymoses
  • Unexpected Bleeding after Surgery
  • Bleeding from Mucous Membranes, Venipuncture Sites, Gastrointestinal and Urinary Tracts.
  • Urgent Medical Team Review. Requires immediate action.
  • May require plasma, red blood cell and platelet transfusion and Anti-coagulant medication to prevent blood clotting.
Infection Risk Factors
  • Open Fractures
  • Internal Fixation
  • Surgical Wound
  • Pin Sites
  • New or Increasing Pain
  • Heat
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Green or Cloudy Oozing/Discharge
  • Tenderness
  • Inform the Medical Team Infections must be treated promptly.
  • Antibiotic therapy must be appropriate and adequate for prevention and treatment of infection[1].

Sub-acute or Delayed Complications[edit | edit source]

Delayed complications include osteomyelitis, delayed union, malunion, non-union, avascular necrosis of bone, reaction to internal fixation devices, complex regional pain syndrome, and heterotrophic ossification can occur at a later stage in the healing process

Intervention Description Signs and Symptoms Action to Take
Osteomyelitis An acute or chronic inflammatory process involving the bone and its structures secondary to infection with pyogenic organisms including bacteria (mostly Staphylococcus), fungi, and mycobacteria.

Acute osteomyelitis is the clinical term for a new infection in bone that can develop into a chronic reaction when intervention is delayed or inadequate.

  • Fever
  • Lethargy, Malaise or Irritability in Children
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Warm Sensation Over an Area of Bone
  • Loss of Range of Movement
  • Urgent Medical Team Review
Delayed Union Occurs when the bone does not heal at a normal rate for the location and type of fracture. Delayed union may be associated with distraction of bone fragments, systemic or local infection, poor nutrition, or comorbidity (eg, diabetes; autoimmune disorders). Eventually, the fracture heals.
  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Reduced Function in Affected Area
  • Orthopaedic Review
  • In low resource, disaster or conflict settings where surgical patients may not be routinely followed up then arrange for orthopaedic review
Malunion Occurs when bone heals but not in the right position. You may have never had treatment for the broken bone. Or, if you did have treatment, the bone moved before it healed.
  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Deformity
  • Reduced Function in Affected Area
  • Swelling
  • Orthopaedic Review
  • In low resource, disaster or conflict settings where surgical patients may not be routinely followed up then arrange for orthopaedic review
Non-Union Results from failure of the ends of a fractured bone to unite. The patient complains of persistent discomfort and abnormal movement at the fracture site. Factors contributing to union problems include infection at the fracture site, interposition of tissue between the bone ends, inadequate immobilization or manipulation that disrupts callus formation, excessive space between bone fragments (bone gap), limited bone contact, and impaired blood supply resulting in avascular necrosis.
  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Continued Movement at Fracture Site beyond Expected Healing Times
  • Reduced Function in Affected Area
  • Swelling
  • Orthopaedic Review
  • In low resource, disaster or conflict settings where surgical patients may not be routinely followed up then arrange for orthopaedic review
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) Abnormally severe pain and reduced function that develops following injury.

Type 1 following injury or immobilisation without nerve injury

Type 2 following injury with nerve injury)

Diagnosis is based on the exclusion of other conditions that would otherwise account for

the degree of pain and dysfunction

  • Continuing Pain, Allodynia, or Hyperalgesia in which the pain is disproportionate to any known inciting event
  • Oedema
  • Changes in skin blood flow
  • Abnormal Sudomotor Activity (Sweating, Abnormal Hair or Nail Growth)
  • Reduced Range of Movement in the Region of Pain
  • Consult with Medical Team
  • Develop Joint Treatment Plan
Avascular Necrosis The death of bone due to loss of blood supply. It may occur after a fracture with disruption of the blood supply, especially in femoral neck. The patient develops pain and experiences limited movement. X-ray reveal calcium loss and structural collapse. Treatment generally consists of attempts to revitalise the bone with bone grafts, prosthetic replacement, or arthrodesis (joint fusion).
  • Gradually worsening pain, in particular on weight bearing
  • Reduced range of movement in the affected joint
  • Urgent Orthopaedic Review
Reaction to Internal Fixation Device Some patient may have a reaction to the Internal fixation devices. The device may be removed after bony union has taken place. In most patients, however, the device is not removed unless it produces symptoms. Pain and decreased function are the prime indications that a problem has developed.[1]
  • Discomfort
  • Pain
  • Reduced Function in Affected Area
  • Orthopaedic Review

Signs and Symptoms[edit | edit source]

It’s important to know the warning signs of a bone healing complication. Receiving prompt care is critical to treating complications. S &S include:

Patient-Related Risk Factors[edit | edit source]

Certain patient-related characteristics influence the development of fracture-healing complications in general, even though specific healing complications may differ by their mechanism.

  • Diabetes, NSAID use, and a recent motor vehicle accident are most consistently associated with an increased risk of a fracture-healing complication, regardless of fracture site or specific fracture-healing complication. [3]
  • In delayed union and non-union identified risk factors include: age; lower limb > upper limb; open fractures; infection; diabetes; smoking; poor blood supply[4].
  • Fractures in obese children have a higher rate of complications independently from conservative or surgical treatment. Surgical indications are more common than in normal weighted children and are generally more invasive. [5]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Brunner LS, Smeltzer SC, Suddarth DS. Brunner & Suddarth's textbook of medical-surgical nursing; Vol. 1. Language. 2010;27:1114-2240p. Available:https://www.brainkart.com/article/Fracture-Healing-and-Complications--Early-and-Delayed-_32596/ (accessed 27.10.2021)
  2. Henry Ford Health Systems Bone Healing Complications Available:https://www.henryford.com/services/orthopedics/broken-bones-trauma/complications-healing-bones (accessed 27.10.2021)
  3. Hernandez RK, Do TP, Critchlow CW, Dent RE, Jick SS. Patient-related risk factors for fracture-healing complications in the United Kingdom General Practice Research Database. Acta orthopaedica. 2012 Dec 1;83(6):653-60. Available:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23140093/ (accessed 27.10.2021)
  4. Coughlin T. Initial Management of Trauma.Available: http://www.learnorthopaedics.com/Learn_Orthopaedics/Musculoskeletal_Trauma_files/Fracture%20Complications.pdf(accessed 27.10.2021)
  5. Donati F, Costici PF, De Salvatore S, Burrofato A, Micciulli E, Maiese A, Santoro P, La Russa R. A perspective on management of limb fractures in obese children: is it time for dedicated guidelines?. Frontiers in pediatrics. 2020 May 8;8:207. Available:https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fped.2020.00207/full (accessed 28.10.2021)