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

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopaedic 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 advanced treatments, translational research and provider training.

Innovative Care for Complex Challenges

Penn State Health offers innovative, leading-edge care for complex conditions like nonunion fractures. Our team of experts uses a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to provide a wide range of care that includes orthopaedics, chronic pain management and therapy services to improve your body’s function and movement.

We specialize in the treatment and management of the most challenging fractures, limb salvage and restoration of function following orthopaedic trauma. We are a regional resource for complex orthopaedic trauma reconstruction cases.

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