Survival First Aid: Fractures


There are basically two types of fractures: open and closed. With an open (or compound) fracture, the bone protrudes through the skin and complicates the actual fracture with an open wound. Any bone protruding from the wound should be cleaned with an antiseptic and kept moist. You should splint the injured area and continually monitor blood flow past the injury. Only reposition the break if there is no blood flow.

The closed fracture has no open wounds. Follow the guidelines for immobilization and splint the fracture.

The signs and symptoms of a fracture are

  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Discoloration
  • Swelling Deformity
  • Loss of function
  • Grating (a sound or feeling that occurs when broken bone ends rub together).
The dangers with a fracture are the severing or the compression of a nerve or blood vessel at the site of fracture. For this reason minimum manipulation should be done, and only very cautiously. If you notice the area below the break becoming numb, swollen, cool to the touch, or turning pale, and the victim showing signs of shock, a major vessel may have been severed. You must control this internal bleeding. Reset the fracture and treat the victim for shock and replace lost fluids. Often you must maintain traction during the splinting and healing process. You can effectively pull smaller bones such as the arm or lower leg by hand. You can create traction by wedging a hand or foot in the V-notch of a tree and pushing against the tree with the other extremity. You can then splint the break. Very strong muscles hold a broken thighbone (femur) in place making it difficult to maintain traction during healing. You can make an improvised traction splint using natural material. (See improvised traction spint below)

improvised traction splint

  • Get two forked branches or saplings at least 5 centimeters (2 inches) in diameter. Measure one from the patient’s armpit to 20 to 30 centimeters (8 to 12 inches) past his unbroken leg. Measure the other from the groin to 20 to 30 centimeters (8 to 12 inches) past the unbroken leg. Ensure that both extend an equal distance beyond the end of the leg.
  • Pad the two splints. Notch the ends without forks and lash a 20- to 30-centimeter (8- to 12-inch) cross member made from a 5-centimeter (2-inch) diameter branch between them.
  • Using available material (vines, cloth, rawhide), tie the splint around the upper portion of the body and down the length of the broken leg. Follow the splinting guidelines.
  • With available material, fashion a wrap that will extend around the ankle, with the two free ends tied to the cross member.
  • Place a 10- by 2.5-centimeter (4- by 1-inch) stick in the middle of the free ends of the ankle wrap between the cross member and the foot. Using the stick, twist the material to make the traction easier.
  • Continue twisting until the broken leg is as long or slightly longer than the unbroken leg.

  • Lash the stick to maintain traction.

NOTE: Over time, you may lose traction because the material weakened. Check the traction periodically. If you must change or repair the splint, maintain the traction manually for a short time.


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