What Are Open Fractures Like?

An open fracture, also called a compound fracture, is a fracture in which there is an open wound or break in the skin near the site of the broken bone. Most often, this wound is caused by a fragment of bone breaking through the skin at the moment of the injury.

An open fracture requires different treatment than a closed fracture, in which there is no open wound. This is because, once the skin is broken, bacteria from dirt and other contaminants can enter the wound and cause infection. For this reason, early treatment for an open fracture focuses on preventing infection at the site of the injury. The wound, tissues, and bone must be cleaned out in a surgical procedure as soon as possible. The fractured bone must also be stabilized to allow the wound to heal.

Illustration and x-ray show an open fracture

Illustration and x-ray show an open fracture. The broken end of the tibia (shinbone) has torn through the soft tissues and is protruding through the skin.

Most open fractures are caused by some type of high-energy event—such as a gunshot or motor vehicle accident. These patients will often have additional injuries to other parts of the body. An open fracture can also result from a lower-energy incident, such as a simple fall at home or an injury playing sports.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.