“It didn’t hurt as much as I thought,” says Tim Snell, the X-ray’s owner. On Flickr, he shared an X-ray of his broken finger and wrote, “I can’t claim that the process of ‘popping it back in’ didn’t pain me. It’s a great thing I was laughing gas-loaded when it came to this issue. ” (“Snap My Fingers,” via CC BY-ND 2.0.)
Broken bones and dislocations are quite typical injuries, and I have many articles on how to treat them in a hurry. But many individuals have inquired about “setting” a bone, which I assume refers to correcting an arm, leg, finger, or toe that is bent incorrectly.
There isn’t much you can do for a bent or dislocated bone or joint other than splint it as-is until you can see a doctor, according to most cases. Attempting to move it around will almost certainly cause more harm.
There are, however, some injuries where it’s not a terrible idea to take the risk and attempt to realign (or reset) the bone or re-insert the joint. And of course, there’s always a chance that expert help is many days away if find yourself in an emergency situation.
In those situations, the key to recovery is not just to apply traction but also to do so effectively.
How to Apply Traction Properly
Traction is a kind of traction that involves pulling on a bone. So you grab the end and pull. Is this simple? Yes, but there’s more to it than that.
- For the most part, you’ll need a firm grip since you’ll have to pull strongly for several seconds, if not minutes. A glove or towel might assist.
- Finally, keep in mind that you must pull in the same direction as the bone. To put it another way, be sure you’re not angling it and applying pressure or torque to the fractured site. You could severely damage the area if you do so.
- Begin with a slow draw and gradually increase the pressure as you continue. Always remember not to jerk. Begin by pulling slowly, then gradually build in intensity.
What Traction Does
The muscles react to the damage by contracting, presumably in an attempt to protect the bone. This tightening and tugging can also make the bone more crooked, making it impossible to place the bone back into position.
We use traction to stretch those muscles and give enough slack so the bone can be straightened, or enough space for the ends of dislocated bones to pop back into position.
The greatest approach to stretch the muscle is to start out modest and sneak up on it, letting it know you’re not there to harm it. Then, as you pull harder, gradually increase your intensity. At the end of the day, you may have to pull quite hard, but never jerk—which will just intimidate the muscle into contracting more.
Step 2: Splint
If a bone is fractured, have someone splint the bone in place before releasing the traction to minimize the possibility of it moving.
You can let go of a dislocated joint once it’s back in place and then splint it. In this case, the splint isn’t as much to keep the bones in position as to safeguard the connection. A sudden jerk or impact that strains or tears ligaments and tendons allows the bone to pop out of position, which is why a dislocated joint is most often caused by a snap. Then, suddenly, the muscles contract again and the misplaced bone is trapped but desperately wants to return to its normal position. If you can stretch out those muscles so that the end of one bone is beyond the end of the other, it will frequently return on its own and stay in place. A splint aids in tendon and ligament healing by providing protection and immobilization.
When Not Do It Yourself
Any time you move or reposition an injured body part, you run the risk of additional damage. A health care provider with expertise is less likely to cause harm and will be better equipped to assess when and how much straightening is required. Furthermore, a little (or significant) amount of anesthesia can go a long way in relaxing the muscles and making it simpler to place the bone back into position (not to mention relieving discomfort). As a result, in most cases, it’s preferable to splint the problem as-is and wait for someone else.
When to Consider Trying Traction
Consider traction for the following reasons:
- To relieve pressure on a nerve. If the distal (far end) of the break or dislocation is numb, there may be pressure on the nerve. In general, this might wait for at least a day to be relieved before causing irreversible nerve damage.
- To relieve pressure on an artery. If your fingertips or toes are blue or if you can’t spot a pulse, removing the pressure from the vessel within a few hours might avoid worse damage to the region that isn’t receiving blood.
- To stop bleeding. A break to the bone may damage a major vessel, which is located next to the femur (thighbone). Blood loss can be fatal in some circumstances. Even before the thigh starts to swell, a lot of blood might be lost. Because the artery is so deep, pressure or even a tourniquet may not enough to stop the bleeding. Applying traction will not only straighten the bone but will also aid in compressing the area around it and stopping or controlling the bleeding. This will require additional treatment with a traction splint later on. However, that is for another post.
- There’s no help on the way. If expert assistance is many days away, not getting a bone back in position can severely limit the use of that bone. For example, you’ll never be able to shift a dislocated joint again. It’s more of a judgment call if a crooked bone is more of a long-term cosmetic problem than one that isn’t straight.
Occasionally, the only way to achieve ideal alignment is with surgical pins and plates, which you would never attempt on your own.
Have you ever had a misaligned fractured (displaced fracture) or dislocated joint? What exactly did you do?
Photo by Owen Beard/Unsplash