Traveling and living in the wild is dangerous. There are many things which can easily cause injury and nothing conveniently at hand to protect us. We can’t expect to find paved trails or staircases up mountainsides. Extreme care must be taken to avoid injury or injury will find us. While the seriousness of a small injury is amplified out in the wild, a broken bone can be almost catastrophic.
There are stories from the Old West of some of the early mountain men who were forced by circumstances to tend their own injuries. Some even had to deal with broken bones or amputating their own limb. All I can say of them, is that they must have been tougher than I am, because I’m not all that sure that I could do that. Those men understood the risks they faced and faced them alone, even if it meant playing doctor on their own body.
Hopefully none of us will be faced with that same situation, but there is a chance that we will be faced with the possibility of a broken bone while bugging out or having to survive. I’m not talking about our own bone, but rather, the bone of someone else in our survival group. If that happens, we’ll need to be ready to render aid.
Setting a bone is a complicated process, especially without modern medical equipment, such as X-ray machines. However, people set bones long before X-rays were discovered. In many cases, the patients recovered fine, able to live a normal life. In others, they ended up walking with a limp.
Recognizing a Broken Bone
Broken bones can be a little hard to diagnose, as there are other injuries, such as sprains, which can look a lot like a broken bone. However, there are some signs to look for:
- A snap or grinding noise, while the injury is happening. This is a fairly sure sign of a broken bone, regardless of what else happens. The body doesn’t normally make those sounds, even when sprains happen or ligaments are damaged.
- Swelling, bruising and tenderness appear around the injury. While it is possible to have swelling without a break, swelling is one of the body’s ways of helping the broken bone to heal. The swelling forms something like a cast, to help immobilize the bone and allow it an opportunity to grow back together.
- Inability to touch the injury, put weight on it or use that limb. Since the bones are the structure of the body, any movement of the muscles pulls against the bones. So if movement causes pain in the injured spot, it could indicate a break.
- Of course, if a bone is visible through the skin or pushing up against the skin, it will be obvious that the bone is broken. This is known as a “compound fracture.”
One thing that can indicate whether the injury is a break or sprain is its location. If the pain from the injury is in a joint, it indicates either a sprain or ligament damage. Bones rarely break at the joints and if they do, it is a chip. If the pain is in the middle of a bone, say the middle of the shin, that indicates a break to the bone, rather than a sprain or torn ligament.
If you are unsure of whether the injury is a break or sprain, then treat it as if it is a break. The extra care you take won’t cause any problem with a sprain healing and it may prevent further damage from the break.
Stabilize the Break
Bones, like almost all of the body, will heal on their own, if given the chance. For that healing to occur, the ends of the bone must be aligned and immobilized. As long as they are held together in that position for six to eight weeks, they will heal.
Feel for the Fracture
Gently prod the injury with your fingers to see if you can locate the fracture. You are feeling for a ridge in the bone or a space between two parts the bone. Many fractures stay aligned well enough that they are all but impossible to feel. This is good, if you encounter a case like this. If the ends of the bone are not aligned properly, the fracture will need to be set, putting the bones back in the right place.
Set the Fracture
If the bones are misaligned, they will need to be aligned again, before they are immobilized. While bones may heal without aligning them properly, chances are that the patient will have reduced use of that limb. In times past, people would end up limping or with limited use of an arm, when nobody was available to properly set their bones.
The easiest way to set a bone is to apply traction, stretching the limb. When this is done, the muscles will naturally pull the bone back into position. Some slight manipulation with the hands, to ensure that the bones are in exact alignment may be needed while the traction is being removed.
Splint the Fracture
For the bone to heal, it must be immobilized. In a hospital, this is done with a cast. Since you will not have cast material available to you, splint the limb to immobilize it. A Sam Splint is ideal for this. Sam Splints are soft aluminum sheeting, that are coated with high density foam rubber. The aluminum can be cut with medical scissors and the splint can be formed with the hands to any necessary shape.
If you don’t have a Sam Splint available, then sticks or any other straight item that is strong enough to hold the limb in place can be used. The outer split from a log works extremely well. Regardless of the splint material, it needs to be padded on the inside, to reduce discomfort and tied in place in such a way that it immobilizes the joints above and below the fracture.
Treat any Surface Injuries
If there are any surface injuries, they will also need to be treated. You want to try to avoid splinting the fracture in a way that covers those injuries, so that you can treat them, changing the bandages as necessary. That may not always be possible, but it is best if you can do so.
Seek Medical Help
This is the type of injury that you really should seek medical help for. Without X-rays or at least the experience to know what a fracture feels like, it is difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to set a fracture. Medical professionals have the necessary training to properly set the fracture, for optimum healing.
Even in a post-disaster world, say after an EMP attack, medical specialists can still do a better job than you and I can, without X-rays. Their superior knowledge and experience will increase the chances of the injury not becoming a permanent disability.
If you are going to seek medical help, be sure to properly immobilize the break and treat any surface wound before moving the patient. Movement of the bone can be extremely painful for the patient, while you are trying to move them from where they were injured to the town where medical help is available. The better a job you can do of immobilizing the bones, the easier that trip will be for the patient.