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What Is a Fracture-Dislocation?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

A fracture-dislocation is a type of injury in which a bone both fractures and dislocates. The fracture is usually located near a joint, and it may prevent a doctor from re-setting the dislocation. The fracture may need to be addressed surgically so the bone fragment can be removed entirely, allowing re-setting of the dislocated joint. A fracture-dislocation is likely to be quite painful, and healing time for this injury will be quite protracted as compared to a simple fracture or a dislocation. The joint will need to be immobilized for a significant period of time in order to promote healing.

Two separate types of injuries occur in a fracture-dislocation injury: a fracture, in which a bone cracks or splinters, and a dislocation, in which one bone separates from another in a joint. The two injuries are often related and happen at the same time, though treatment for each injury will be different. In a best case scenario, the fracture will not interfere with the re-setting of the dislocation, but often the fracture will need to be addressed, sometimes surgically, in order to successfully re-set the dislocation. Treatment for a fracture generally involves one of two courses: for less severe fractures, the bone can heal on its own with rest and pain management; for severe fractures, immobilization of the bone, followed by a surgery in which screws or plates are installed or bone fragments are removed, will be necessary.

Anatomical model of the human body
Anatomical model of the human body

This means, of course, that the dislocation may not be completely addressed until after a surgery is performed. This can lead to lasting damage to tissues surrounding the fracture-dislocation injury, and a patient may experience stiffness, soreness, or chronic pain after the injury has healed completely. A loss or reduction of mobility may also occur, even after sufficient healing time.

Physical therapy will be necessary after the fracture-dislocation injury has had some time to heal. The ligaments and muscles surrounding the affected area will lose strength and mobility that will need to be rebuilt, but this should not happen until a doctor has determined it is safe for the patient to begin rehabilitation. This physical therapy should be done under the guidance and supervision of an experienced physical therapist; doing the exercises on one's own can lead to re-injury of the fracture-dislocation. Recovery from this injury will take anywhere from several months to several years, and doing therapy incorrectly can protract the recovery period even further.

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    • Anatomical model of the human body
      Anatomical model of the human body