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Wilderness First Aid: Broken Bones

Tuesday, 02 April 2013 05:00 Written by  
Dr. Estra

Attending and applying first aid on broken bones in the wilderness where there are no immediately available healthcare practitioners is a vital skill that an outdoorsman or outdoors woman should master. Although, most fractures are not immediately life threatening, learning how to apply first aid on broken bones will help to prevent the aggravation of the injury as well as contribute to better healing. Take note that learning how to apply any form of first aid goes beyond reading so we also suggest taking up a formal course to help you actually practice and also so that you can ask questions if you have any. Anyway, here are some important tips you should know when applying first aid to broken bones.

First Aid Steps for Broken Bones: 

  • The first thing you should do when applying first aid is also the most instinctual for the patient, and that is to stop and rest. Continuing to move the affected bone or body part will surely aggravate the injury and cause more pain.
  • The next step, it is important to stop any bleeding if it is present. This is done by applying firm and consistent, but gentle pressure to the affected area. You can also bandage the area securely to help stop the blood flow.
  • Once bleeding has been stopped, rinse the affected area with sterile water or saline solution. If this is not possible, then you may use clean water. Rinse the affected area until it is free of any debris and foreign material, which may cause further infection.
  • An important question is whether you should push a bone that protrudes through the skin. Considering that most likely you are no medical professionals within a hospital surrounding, pushing the bone back in place is best left to the experts. Pushing the bone back in may result in damage to nerves and blood vessels, which would cause more bleeding and damage. A broken bone that penetrates through the skin may also be corking the wound, and trying to push the bone back into place may cause rebleeding. There might be some considerations as to pushing the bone back in place, and this is when the circulation is compromised. Compromised circulation may be indicated by pale, bluish, and cold extremities distal to the fracture. For example a broken arm with compromised circulation may result in pale and cold fingers, or a broken leg, may cause pale and cold toes. Consult your healthcare provider about this as they may be able to give you better advice, when it comes to attempting to reset a bone with compromised circulation.
  • Be wary of signs and symptoms of shock, as this indicates a compromised circulatory system and may result in death if not addressed properly. If the person has any potential signs of shock such as being cold, clammy, pale, weak pulse, and faint, then try to keep them warm with a blanket and monitor any changes in consciousness, profuse sweating, excessive thirst, and shivering to name a few.
  • Immobilize the affected area to prevent further injury by applying a splint. This can be done by obtaining materials for splintage such as backpack frames, sticks, tent poles, and even a tightly wrapped magazine or newspaper will do the trick. Apply your splintage on both sides of the break and then secure it with straps, cordage, or even duct tape. You can even use a bandana or ripped T-shirt to secure it. Take note to avoid tying too tightly as this may cause a decrease in circulation. Check the extremity distal to the injured area to ensure circulation has not been compromised. For example, a broken arm would show pale, clammy, numb, and cold fingers.
  • You can add to the immobilization, by also securing the splinted area. For example, if you have a patient with a broken arm, then you can use a commercially prepared arm sling or a large bandana to sling the affected area. Also, remember to avoid any form of weight bearing on the area, as this will aggravate the injured area and cause more pain. If you have an injured leg, then you can use two long Y shaped tree branches to create a crutch.
  • Provide temporary pain relief with over the counter pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. 
  • The last step when dealing with a fracture patient is to cancel the trip and evacuate to the nearest medical center or rescue facility with emergency medical services. Broken bones or fractures no matter how small they may be, require immediate medical assistance.

So these are just a few useful and basic tips on how to attend to fractures or broken bones. As mentioned before, we strongly suggest attending a formal first aid course where the topic can be dealt with in more detail and you can also ask any questions you might have. First aid courses also provide demonstrations on how to actually apply first aid management.

Dr. Estra is a MD with an interest in wilderness survival. He frequently writes health related articles for

Last modified on Tuesday, 09 April 2013 22:24
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