When marketing professional Dinesh Athaide slowed down his bike at a busy Mumbai intersection, he had no idea what was going to happen next. Athaide braked to let a senior citizen cross the road, but instead lost control of his bike, and broke his leg.
"I had no idea I had broken my leg, but after I got home that day, I was in pain," recalls Athaide. He decided to go to the doctor, and after an X-ray confirmed the break, spent a month in a cast. "After that, I used a walking stick for three days," says Athaide, who has since made a full recovery.
When one breaks a leg, that could mean anything: (a) a hairline crack (where the bones have cracked, but not broken), which is a mild injury, (b) a closed injury, where the bone breaks in one or several places but without any associated skin damage, (c) a compound fracture, where there is a loss of skin or muscle associated with the fracture. Finally, in the most serious instance, the broken leg is also associated with injury to a nerve or blood vessel surrounding the bone.
Bike accidents are the most common causes of broken legs, accounting for 50 to 60 per cent of incidents. This could be via a direct hit to the leg, resulting in the bone breaking at more than one place, and is also accompanied by skin abrasions. If a person sustains a fall from the bike – where the bone is broken at one place – it’s termed a rotational injury.
Sportsmen playing football and hockey can also suffer from broken legs. Seniors are also prone to such incidents due to falls in bathrooms and other areas.
Finally, broken legs may result from a stress fracture – this happens when people not used to regular exercise suddenly get into an intensive exercise schedule.
A broken leg can be easily identified – one can see that the leg is deformed and swollen. Sufferers may also hear a crunching sound, either at the moment of impact or when walking after an accident. There may be severe pain and a bluish discolouration.
The first move is to splint the leg, and seek medical opinion. In case of a closed injury, the swelling is reduced and the leg is kept immbolised and elevated. If there are skin abrasions, the priority is to stop the bleeding and see that there is no nerve damage. Then, a soft plaster is applied, until the swelling reduces, after which a final plaster can be applied. These days, patients do not need to suffer a heavy cast, which can cause itching and mobility problems. Lightweight plaster bandages can be applied after a day or two, once the swelling has subsided.
If the bone is broken at more than one place, plate screws and rods may need to be fixed, via a minimally invasive method. The patient can start walking the next day.
People who use bikes should have leg guards installed. In uncomplicated fractures, the patient can make a full recovery. Other cases depe-nd on the extent of injury – if blood vessels are damaged, disability can result; in multiple fractures, there are chances of deformity.
(Inputs by Dr IPS Oberoi, senior consultant orthopaedics, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon)
From HT Brunch, November 6
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