Bones are very hard. It would take a lot for it to break or fracture. Despite that, throughout a person’s life, breaking bones is a very common occurrence.
When these fractures occur, some suggest putting ice on the area. Others say that a warm compress is better.
In this article, we’ll be examining whether or not people should be icing broken bones.
Types of Broken Bones or Fractures
The answer to the question we have is largely dependent on several factors. The first factor is the type of broken bone or fracture that people have. There are many different types that vary depending on a number of factors. Let’s check these different types out.
A closed fracture is also commonly referred to as a simple fracture. This type of fracture is when the bone has broken, but the skin has not. In other words, there is no open wound. This type of fracture is very common in children due to their high activity levels and falls. It is also common in car accidents.
An open or compound fracture is the opposite of a closed fracture. In this type of fracture, not only has the bone been broken, but there is an open wound where the bone has pierced through the skin. These types of fractures are much more serious than closed fractures as they put the person at risk of infection.
A displaced fracture occurs when the bone has broken and is no longer in its natural alignment. The bone may be protruding from the skin or at an awkward angle. This type of fracture is serious as it can damage surrounding tissue, nerves, and blood vessels.
A partial fracture is a break that only affects a part of the bone. These fractures are not as serious as complete fractures where the bone has been completely broken.
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone that occur due to repetitive stress or overuse. These fractures are common in athletes who participate in high-impact sports such as running, basketball, and football.
Different Healing Stages for Fractures
Once a person has determined what type of fracture they have, it is important to understand the different stages of healing that the bone will go through. There are three main stages: acute inflammation, soft callus formation, and hard callus formation.
These stages also inform a person whether icing broken bones is good or not.
This is the first stage of healing and typically lasts for about 3-5 days after the injury. During this stage, the blood vessels around the broken bone are damaged and leak blood. This blood helps to clean out any debris around the area and brings in immune cells to help fight off infection. The blood also helps to form a clot which will eventually harden and stabilize the broken bone.
Soft Callus Formation
The next stage of healing is when a soft callus starts to form. This happens about 2-3 weeks after the initial injury. During this stage, the bone begins to grow back together. However, the bone that is growing is not as strong as the original bone.
Hard Callus Formation
The final stage of healing is when a hard callus starts to form. This happens about 4-8 weeks after the initial injury. During this stage, the bone continues to grow back together and gets stronger and harder.
Is Icing Broken Bones a Viable Option?
Now that we know more about fractures and the different stages of healing, let’s answer the question: should people ice broken bones? Icing broken bones can be beneficial for several reasons.
Constricts Blood Vessels
One of the main benefits of icing is that it constricts blood vessels. This is important because, as we discussed before when blood vessels are damaged, they leak blood. This can cause swelling, pain, and inflammation. Icing helps to constrict the blood vessels and reduce the amount of leakage.
Another benefit of icing is that it reduces swelling. Swelling occurs when fluid accumulates around the broken bone. Icing helps to reduce the amount of fluid that accumulates and decreases swelling.
Icing also helps to reduce pain. When you have a broken bone, the nerves around the area are damaged and send signals of pain to your brain. Icing helps to reduce the number of pain signals that are sent to your brain and can help you feel more comfortable.
While ice introduces many benefits, it should only be used for specific situations.
When Can We Use Ice For Broken Bones?
The First Two Healing Stages
Ice is best used in the first two healing stages of fractures. These are the acute inflammation and soft callus formation stages.
When bone starts to repair, it creates a healthy area of swelling around the broken area. This is due to the blood clots that start to form.
While the swelling is healthy, it may still be a painful nuisance to the person. The ice will help control the swelling and keep it down.
Never Directly On Skin
Another thing to remember is that ice should never be applied directly to the skin. The cold temperatures may be harmful to the skin or underlying tissues. It could also create ice crystals within the skin and hamper any healing blood flow. Finally, if the ice were too cold, it could result in dry ice burns.
Instead, wrap the ice in a towel or some cloth before putting it over the broken area.
Not With Open Fractures
Open fractures occur when the bone punctures the skin and is showing out of the body. In these cases, it is best to not use ice. The area will be constantly bleeding from the puncture wound.
The bleeding must be stopped and the area immobilized. In addition, placing the ice around the open fracture area may cause more pain and invite infections.
What About Hot or Warm Compresses?
Warm or Hot compresses are an alternative to icing. As opposed to the ice for broken bones, a warm compress is best used during the hard callus formation stage.
They may provide some of the same benefits but with a few key differences.
One benefit of hot compresses is that they help to relax muscles. This is due to the heat from the compress which causes the muscles to loosen up and feel more relaxed. Icing, on the other hand, can cause muscles to tighten up and feel stiffer.
Improves Blood Circulation
Another benefit of hot compresses is that they improve blood circulation. This is important because it helps to bring nutrients and oxygen to the broken bone. It also helps to remove waste products from the area. Icing, on the other hand, can constrict blood vessels and reduce blood circulation
Hot compresses can also help to reduce pain. The heat from the compress helps to block pain signals from reaching the brain.
Ice and Heat
As we have seen, icing broken bones bring many benefits. The same can be said for heat and hot compresses. The key is understanding when it is best to use each of them.
Together, heat and ice for broken bones can help with fracture recovery.
With broken bones being as common as they are, it is best to understand how to properly treat them or care for a victim with the right first aid practices.
Learn more about first aid through CPR First Aid’s Liverpool course.