In an emergency situation in the wilderness, when you can’t make it to a medical professional quickly, it is possible to set a broken bone yourself. The best way to react to a broken bone depends on the type of break that has occurred. There are two types of broken bones: open fractures and closed fractures. A break is called an open, or compound, fracture if the bone is protruding through the skin, often resulting in an open wound. A closed fracture, on the other hand, does not result in an open wound. Open fractures are trickier to deal with and tend to result in more complications.
Open fractures are more complicated to set than closed fractures, because there is a higher chance that nerves and blood vessels have been or will be severed when you try to set the bone. When dealing with an open fracture, it is therefore best to try to disturb the surrounding area as little as possible. The bone still needs to be set, however, so follow the steps outlined below for closed fractures and then treat the open wound.
If you see signs that a major blood vessel has been severed, such as numbness, swelling, or paleness below the break, stop the internal bleeding as fast as possible. Then allow the injured person to rest and give them fluids.
Setting a broken bone involves moving the bone back into place so that it is aligned again, and then splinting the break to keep the bone in that position. In order to move the bone, you will need to maintain traction to give yourself enough leverage to pull the bone into place. If the broken bone is small enough, for instance if it is in the arm, you may be able to pull it into place by hand. You can push against a tree for traction, then splint the break with a stick along the bone and a cloth wrapped tightly around the stick to hold it in place.
If, on the other hand, the bone is bigger or surrounded by a lot of muscles, you will need a traction splint in order to maintain sufficient traction. If the broken bone is the thighbone, or femur, then this is the method you will need to use:
1. Find two forked branches or saplings at least 2 inches in diameter.
2. Place the forked ends against the body, one against the armpit on the injured side and the other against the groin. Cut the branches so that the other ends are at an equal distance, approximately 8 to 12 inches, beyond the foot of the broken leg.
3. Place some kind of padding between the branches and the body.
4. Put notches in the non-forked ends, and find another branch 2 inches in diameter that you can cut to approximately 8 to 12 inches in length. Tie this short branch below the bottom of the foot, making a cross member between the two forked branches.
5. Wrap something, such as cloth or vines, around the leg and upper body to hold the splint in place.
6. Wrap a piece of material around the ankle and tie the two free hands to the crossmember. Then use another strong stick in the middle of these free ends, between the crossmember and the foot.
7. Use this stick to twist the ankle wrap, which will provide traction to twist the leg. Once twisting has made the broken leg as long as the unbroken leg, tie the stick in place to hold the leg bones in this position.
These bone-setting techniques are applicable for both setting your own broken bones and setting someone else’s. For more information on survival supplies and emergency preparation, take a look at the supplies offered on foodstorehouse.com.
Ben Tanner is a survival and preparedness writer