Broken Bones That Fail to Heal

Broken bones that do not heal, even after a lengthy recovery period, are called fracture nonunion.

For a broken bone to heal correctly, it needs to be successfully stabilized and not allowed to move until the break heals itself. It also requires an adequate blood supply, nutrients like protein, calcium and vitamin D and oxygen. If any of those components are lacking, nonunion of a fractures can occur. Infection in your broken bone can also lead to a fracture nonunion. Smoking is a significant risk factor for developing a fracture nonunion

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Some broken bones may take as long as one year to heal completely. During that time, if your fracture does not show signs of getting progressively better, you may have a fracture nonunion. Other symptoms of fracture nonunion fractures include:

  • Reduced function and weakness in the affected area
  • Persistent pain and discomfort
  • Feeling of instability with weight bearing (walking)
  • Swelling and inflammation

Diagnosing fracture nonunion may include:

  • X-rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Bloodwork to determine if an infection is present

Fracture nonunion may take a significant amount of time to heal completely and will often require surgery. However, with proper treatment and rehabilitation, normal function can often be restored.

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Top-Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopedic providers in the country by U.S. News & World Report. This honor was earned because our doctors consistently deliver exceptional patient care and outcomes through their commitment to advanced treatments, translational research and provider training.

Coordinated, Specialized Care Through a Dedicated Institute

Our orthopaedic specialists work together through our dedicated Penn State Bone and Joint Institute. There, they focus on providing you with multidisciplinary, tailored care and state-of-the-art treatments and technologies. This produces the highest-quality patient outcomes. All physicians at the institute are fellowship-trained and subspecialize in additional niche areas of orthopaedics, including arthritis care and joint arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery).

Designated as a Blue Distinction® Center

Penn State Bone and Joint Institute is a Blue Distinction Center for Knee and Hip Replacement. This superior designation from BlueCross BlueShield is only given to health care facilities and providers that stand out for their expertise in delivering specialty knee and hip replacement care. Our surgeons specialize in a range of pain-relieving procedures, including partial knee replacement, total joint arthroplasty, joint preservation surgery and complex revision surgery. They perform more than 1,000 joint replacement procedures every year.

Confidence in Treatment Through Education

We developed a special joint replacement education website just for patients undergoing joint arthroplasty. The website takes you step by step through the joint replacement process. From things to consider before choosing surgery to recovery after surgery, you’ll find the information you need to help you feel confident in your decision to undergo joint replacement.

Advancing Orthopaedic Medicine Through Research

The doctors and researchers in our Center for Orthopaedic Research and Translational Science at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are committed to advancing our field through scientific discovery and education. As the only academic medical center in central Pennsylvania, Hershey Medical Center is a national leader in research, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine, and on the leading edge of new treatment options, including clinical trials.

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