Orthopaedic emergencies include fractures, dislocations, and joint infections. In the event of traumatic events such as a fall, one may be unable to engage in physical activity, or only able to walk with a limp. This may be a sign of a possible fracture which needs assessment urgently.
Other signs of fractures are pain, swelling, sudden deformity, and inability to use the limb as one did before the traumatic event. Severe multiple trauma victims are often found in motor vehicle accidents, especially those on motorcycles. When these occupants experience injuries to more than one long bone, they are termed "polytrauma" patients. Depending on the severity and the number of injuries, they may first require "damage control surgery" to temporarily stabilise their fractures while they recover in ICU. This fracture management allows for later definitive fixation after through planning while the patient recovers in ICU. These patients are often too unwell to allow for lengthy operations and definitive fixation immediately following polytrauma.
In certain instances, the orthopaedic injuries take place over head, chest, and abdominal injuries which need treatment first to ensure survival. Damage control orthopaedics often involves the insertion of intramedullary metal rods/devices in long bones called "nails". Other options include external fixations which consist of external rods and clamps which are attached externally to the bone via pins which are drilled into the bone itself. They are most often used for open fractures. Open fractures occur in the presence of a wound which communicates with the fractured bone ends. This wound allows potentially dangerous bacteria to gain entry to the body and bones, and may result in severe infection and osteomyelitis. Emergency cleaning and decontaminating of the wound with stabilisation of the fracture is required to reduce the chances of complications. Some polytrauma victims may sustain a fracture of the pelvis which connects the legs to the abdomen and body. These patients often require external fixation of the pelvis to reduce internal bleeding. Other pelvic injuries include fractured hip sockets (acetabular fractures) and hip fractures (proximal femur fractures). The treating orthopaedic surgeon will recommend fixation or replacement depending on many factors, including the fracture pattern.
Other more simple forms of trauma like ankle and wrist fractures, may require surgery to put the bone pieces back into place, before fixing them with small screws and plates made of high tech metals. None of the implanted materials in orthopaedics rust, and most may be left in the body permanently without further or later complication. Since the metal is deep within the body, metal detectors like those in airports, will not alarm. Although fractures may be fixed with surgery, this does not mean that they are healed. Bones still take between 6 to 12 weeks on average to unite, open fractures and severe trauma may sometimes take longer. After the bone unites, most people return to their previous activities and sports.
Not all traumatic injuries are fractures. Sometimes a joint may move out of its normal place and become dislocated. Most often it involves the shoulder. When this happens a medical practitioner needs to replace the joint in position as soon as possible to prevent further complications.
Joint infection occurs when bacteria either travel through the bloodstream, or a wound, into a joint. This leads to pain, swelling, fever at times, and inability to move the limb. This is an emergency, as joint infection leads to the production of enzymes that destroy cartilage – the joint lining. This may result in severe stiffness and arthritis if not emergency treated by surgery to open the joint and wash out the infected material and bacteria, together with the administration of intravenous antibiotics. Joint infections are most often seen in children and those with weak immune systems.