What is a Compound Fracture?
A compound fracture is another term for an open fracture. Compound / open fractures occur when the fracture causes a wound in the skin at or near the fracture site. As a result, the fracture communicates with the external environment creating a high risk of infection in the bone and the wound.
Compound fractures may occur after significant trauma, for example, a motor vehicle collision. A common bone involved in compound fractures is the tibia – a bone in the leg. However, almost any bone can be associated with a compound fracture.
It’s important to know how to recognize a compound fracture and the correct first aid treatment for this serious injury.
You won’t always see the bone
People often associate a compound / open fracture with the “bone sticking through the skin”. However, it’s important to remember that not all compound fractures will have an easily visible bone.
In some cases, the bone will not be visible at all. The muscles surrounding the bone may contract, pulling the bone back underneath the skin. Small bones may be easy to miss, especially if there is a significant amount of bleeding.
Suspect a compound / open fracture if there is a wound overlying a suspected fracture, regardless of whether the bone is visible or not.
First aid treatment for a compound fracture
Compound (open) fractures are at high risk of infection. In severe cases, the infection can spread into the bone itself which is a serious condition that may lead to loss of the entire limb. The infection can also lead to sepsis, a life-threatening condition caused by the immune system’s response to an infection.
Emergency medical services should always be called for any suspected open fracture.
The three main priorities when dealing with an open fracture are:
- Stop significant bleeding (hemorrhage)
- Reduce the risk of infection
- Splint / immobilize the injury
Direct pressure around the injury can stop bleeding. Alternatively, a tourniquet can be used for catastrophic bleeding from a limb.
A sterile dressing should be placed over the injury, including over any exposed bone. The limb should then be immoblized until the arrival of emergency medical services.