Aging & Health A to Z
Care & Treatment
Fixing the Fracture
When you arrive at the hospital, your fracture will be stabilized with a splint, sling, wrap (for elbow, wrist, or knee injuries), or well-placed pillows (for a broken hip or spinal fractures) to keep you as comfortable as possible and prevent more damage.
If you are in good health, you will probably have surgery within one to three days to repair the bone. In some cases, the surgeon may decide to wait a little longer to make sure that you are strong enough, or that infections or severe osteoporosis are being treated adequately first. If the bones are still in their proper places, you may not need surgery.
You will have to keep the fracture from shifting position for several weeks. Therefore, the injured bone may be placed in a cast. To prevent medical complications and stiffness—especially for older people—patients are usually encouraged to start physical therapy or rehabilitation as soon as possible. After hip surgery, may be encouraged to stand on it right away. A partial or full hip replacement may be needed in some cases of hip fractures.
Older adults who were confined to bed or severely ill before the injury may not be good candidates for surgery because of a high risk for complications.
Your healthcare team will provide pain medications while you are in hospital and send you home with a prescription if you still need a painkiller. Pain from a bone injury is often intense at the beginning, but will decrease gradually over the first few weeks. Pain sometimes persists for several months before full recovery.
If you have osteoporosis, your healthcare professional will probably prescribe a medication called a bisphosphonate (such as, Actonel or Fosamax). Other medications for strengthening bones, such as calcitonin or parathyroid hormone may also be prescribed. Follow your doctor’s instructions exactly for taking these medications, since they may have serious side effects if taken improperly. These medications only work if you have sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D in your body, so likely those will be prescribed as well, and doing exercise is another key component to improving bone strength.
Make sure that your calcium and vitamin D intake are adequate, and that your diet is well-balanced and nutrient-rich. Check with a dietitian or nutritionist for the best individualized diet for you.
You will be given gentle rehabilitation exercises by physical therapists and occupational therapists according to your individual needs. The more you can do, the more quickly you will recover and be able to leave the hospital, but do not overdo it.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012