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Delayed Union: What Is It And How Does It Affect Your Fractured Foot?

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For most people, their bone fractures heal quickly and without problems. But if you have a fractured bone in your foot that won't heal as expected, speak to an orthopedist right away. You may have a problem called "delayed union." A delayed union describes a bone fracture that takes longer to heal properly than a doctor expects. The bones may develop an infection or problem that prevents them from mending. Here's more information about a delayed union fracture and what you can do to treat it.

What's a Delayed Union?

When bones break, or fracture, they experience a great deal of trauma. In order to combat the trauma and heal, bones develop extra tissues. The tissues gradually allow the bones to mend or grow back together. Sometimes, bone fractures take too long to mend and this is called a delayed union. A delayed union can occur when bacteria enter the healing site and infect the bones or their cells, when you re-injure the bones walking or moving the wrong way, or when the bones lose sufficient blood supply.

Bones that don't heal as expected can create many problems for you. If the bones of your foot develop an infection, or osteomyelitis, it can spread to other parts of the body, such as to your calf or hip. The infection spreads through your blood supply when bacteria enter it. You might experience chronic pain in the fracture site, which prevents you from taking on everyday tasks, such as cleaning or working. Other symptoms of a bone infection includes swelling, fever, and chills.

To help your foot fracture heal properly, speak to an orthopedic specialist immediately.

What Can You Do to Treat Your Foot?

If you received your initial treatment from a regular doctor, they may refer you to a specialist for care. An orthopedic doctor can examine your foot fracture to see where the infection is and make the best recommendations to treat it. Antibiotics may be the first treatment you receive for your foot. 

A specialist may also suggest that you take time off from work to allow the antibiotics to treat the infection. Placing further stress on your foot fracture may delay the healing process even further. If the antibiotics don't work in a set amount of time, an orthopedist may suggest that you have surgery. 

Before surgery, an orthopedist will re-examine your fractured foot to ensure that it doesn't have anything that might interfere with the procedure. For example, if your foot is swollen or severely infected, a specialist may wait until the problem subsides. Once the problem does go away, an orthopedist may proceed with the surgery

Foot surgery for bone fractures may include opening up the original site and manually removing the damaged tissues. A surgery may also require a doctor to insert or place small pins, rods, or plates in or on the bones to stabilize them. It's possible for a doctor to completely replace your foot's natural bones with metal pieces. The devices allow the bones to grow together without complications, as well as prevent the spread of infection in the future. 

An orthopedic doctor will generally monitor your foot post surgery to ensure that it heals properly. The healing time may vary, so consult with an orthopedist if you have concerns about work or another pressing responsibility. In the meantime, be sure to get sufficient rest to help your body's immune system stay healthy during the healing process. You can also eat foods that build stronger bones, such as yogurt and leafy green vegetables. If you have concerns about what to eat, speak to your orthopedist. 

For more details about delayed union or how to treat your fractured foot, contact a bone doctor today at a clinic like Soloway Stephen MD Arthritis & Rheumatology.