How to Care for Broken Bones

The orthopedic experts in the Henry Ford Health are here to support you as you recover from a broken bone, dislocation or fracture. When you know what to expect after a broken bone or dislocation, you can take an active role in the healing process. You’ll feel better and get back on your feet faster.

What to expect after orthopedic trauma

The treatments and devices that your orthopedist uses to help heal bone trauma or fracture may take some getting used to. In addition, you may lose strength or range of motion as your bone heals. If you do, your doctor will work with physical therapists to design a rehabilitation program to help you regain strength and flexibility.

If your doctor prescribes an aid to support your injured limb or help you get around, he or she will make sure it is properly fitted before you go home. Here are some tips for living with the equipment you may use after a bone fracture or other trauma:

  • Casts

    A cast is a plaster or fiberglass shell that helps hold your bones in the right position so they heal properly. Some casts are made of waterproof material; ask your doctor if a waterproof cast is appropriate for you.

    Follow these general guidelines and your doctor’s recommendations to care for your broken bone as it heals.

    • Don’t get your cast wet. If possible, take a bath instead of a shower. Cover your cast with a cast cover or plastic trash bag secured with a rubber band. Always check the bag for holes before using it a second time. Hang the covered cast over the side of the tub and never lower it into the water. If the cast gets wet, you may be able to dry the inside padding with a hair dryer set on low.
    • Resist the urge to slip something inside the cast to scratch an itch. You could damage your skin and cause an infection. Instead, tap the cast or blow cool air from a hair dryer into it for relief.
    • Don’t put anything inside the cast, including powders or lotions. They can cause infection.
    • Leave the rough edges of a plaster cast alone. If you try to trim or file them down, you may weaken or break the cast.
    • Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these symptoms, which can lead to improper healing and other complications:
      • The cast gets damaged.
      • The cast gets wet. If the skin under the cast is wet for a long period of time, it may become infected.
      • Skin or nails below the cast turn blue or gray or feel numb, cold, or tingly. This may mean your cast is too tight.
      • The cast is loose. This may occur as swelling subsides. A cast that’s too loose promotes improper healing.
      • The cast rubs or irritates your skin.
      • You experience new or increased pain.
      • Your limb or cast begins to smell bad. Sweat under the cast can cause mold or mildew to grow.
  • Arm slings

    An arm sling may be used to support a cast on the hand, wrist, arm or elbow. We recommend wrapping a towel or cloth around the strap where it touches your neck to prevent irritation.

  • Walking casts
    • If the doctor says you can walk on your cast, be sure to wear a cast shoe with it. Cast shoes have tread to prevent falls and keep the cast from wearing through on the bottom. Do not lean or push on the cast more than is necessary for walking, or it may crack.
    • Get your home ready by removing items that may cause falls, such as area rugs. Extra lighting, non-slip mats, grab bars and toilet and shower seats may reduce the risk of falls. Use a backpack or wear clothing with extra pockets to free up your hands.
  • Crutches
    • When you stand upright, the top of your crutches should reach between 1 and 1.5 inches below your armpits. The handgrips should align with the top of your hips.
    • When moving on crutches, your elbows should bend slightly and your hands should absorb the weight. Don't press the top of the crutches into your armpits. Lean forward slightly and put your crutches about a foot ahead of you. Begin your step as if you were going to use the injured foot or leg, but shift your weight to the crutches instead. Your body swings forward between the crutches. Finish the step normally with your non-injured leg. Look ahead to where you are walking, not at your feet.
    • To sit or stand, back up to a sturdy chair. Put your injured foot in front of you and both crutches in one hand. Use the other hand to feel for the seat of your chair. Slowly lower yourself into it. Lean your crutches upside down within reach. To stand up, scoot to the front of the chair. Hold both crutches in the hand on the side of your good leg. Push yourself up and stand on the good leg.
    • To walk up and down stairs with crutches, you need to be strong and flexible. We recommend avoiding stairs when possible. If you have to use stairs, take them one step at a time.
    • If your stairs have handrails, face the stairway, hold the handrail with one hand and tuck both crutches under your armpit on the other side. When you're going up, lead with your good foot, keeping the injured foot raised behind you. When you're going down, hold your injured foot up in front, and hop down each stair on your good foot.
    • For stairs without handrails, use the crutches under both arms and hop up or down each step on your good leg — this takes a lot of strength. An easier way is to sit on the stairs and using one hand and your good leg for support, scoot up or down each step, holding your injured leg out in front of you and holding your crutches flat against the stairs.
  • Canes
    • When you stand upright, the top of your cane should reach the bend of your wrist.
    • Your elbow should bend a bit when you hold your cane. Hold the cane in the hand opposite the side that needs support. When you walk, the cane and your injured leg should swing and strike the ground at the same time.
    • To walk, position your cane one small stride ahead and step off on your injured leg. Finish the step with your normal leg.
    • To climb stairs, grasp the handrail and step up on your good leg first, with your cane in the hand opposite the injured leg. Then step up on the injured leg.
    • To come down the stairs, put your cane on the step first, then your injured leg, then your good leg. The good leg should carry your body weight.
  • Walkers
    • A walker with four solid prongs provides the most stability and allows you to shift weight off of your lower body. When you stand upright, the top of your walker should reach the bend of your wrist.
    • Take your time as you learn to use your walker.
      • To walk: Put your walker one step ahead of you, making sure the legs of your walker are level to the ground. With both hands, grip the top of the walker for support. Step off with your injured leg and move into the walker, but not all the way to the front bar. Touch the heel of the foot of your injured leg to the ground first, then flatten the foot. Lift your toes off the ground as you complete the step with your good leg. Take small steps when you turn to avoid falls.
      • To sit and stand: Back up until your legs touch the chair. Reach back to feel the seat and lower yourself into the chair. To stand, push yourself up and grasp the walker's grips.
    • Make sure the rubber tips on your walker's legs stay in good shape — this helps avoid slipping. Never try to climb stairs or use an escalator with your walker.

Stay connected as you recover

If you have questions about your recovery, call the phone number indicated on your instruction sheet. You can also connect with an on-call doctor using MyChart. This technology lets you use email or video chat for follow-up care, avoiding unnecessary trips to the office.
Expert Orthopedic Care
Virtual appointments are available.

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