Spiral Fracture: Causes And Treatment

Feature | adult fractured his leg | Spiral Fracture: Causes and Treatment | what is a spiral fracture

How does a spiral fracture differ from other kinds of bone breaks? Find out in this article.

RELATED: What Is Boxer’s Fracture? Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

In this article:

  1. What Is a Spiral Fracture?
  2. Where Do Spiral Fractures Occur?
  3. When Does a Spiral Fracture Happen?
  4. What Are the Symptoms of a Spiral Fracture?
  5. How Is a Spiral Fracture Diagnosed?
  6. What Are the Possible Complications of an Untreated Spiral Fracture?
  7. How Is Spiral Fracture Treated?
  8. Who Needs Surgery?
  9. What Happens After a Spiral Fracture Surgery?

What Is a Spiral Fracture? | Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery

What Is a Spiral Fracture?

A spiral fracture, also called a torsion fracture, is a complete fracture that happens because of a twisting or rotational injury.

This kind of fracture mostly occurs on long bones resulting in two separate pieces of bones whose breaks distinctly resemble a winding staircase or a corkscrew. This happens because the break occurs diagonally across the long bone.

There are two kinds of spiral bone fracture:

  • Displaced spiral fracture – The parts of the broken bone do not line up correctly anymore.
  • Stable spiral fracture – The parts of the broken bone still line up and are minimally misaligned.

Where Do Spiral Fractures Occur?

Spiral fractures are most likely to occur in these bones:

  • tibia (the shinbone)
  • fibula (the shorter calf bone parallel to the tibia)
  • talus (the ankle bone between the tibia and fibula
  • femur (the thigh bone)
  • humerus (the bone in your upper arm)
  • bones in your fingers

When Does a Spiral Fracture Happen?

Anything that may exert extreme twisting or rotational force on a long bone may cause a spiral fracture.

This usually happens when a limb, like a foot, remains still and grounded while the body is in motion. This can bring extreme pressure on the foot leading to the fracture.

So, what exactly causes a spiral fracture?

Spiral fractures are commonly the result of sports injuries or falling accidents.

In kids, spiral fractures are called toddler’s fractures and are a common sign of physical abuse—a result of forceful twisting of a child’s limb.

What Are the Symptoms of a Spiral Fracture?

A person with a spiral fracture will experience pain and swelling on the sire of the injury. As with any other fracture, the more severe it is, the more painful it will be.

Other symptoms include:

  • restricted range of motion
  • loss of control and feeling in the lower leg or arm
  • bone stiffness
  • tenderness
  • loss of consciousness
  • inability to put weight on the injured bone
  • inability to fully extend the leg or arm
  • signs of bruising
  • bone tenting (in open fractures, the fractured bone is ready to break through the skin)
  • loss of pulse in the ankle or wrist

RELATED: Tibial Plateau Fracture FAQ: Everything You Need To Know

How Is a Spiral Fracture Diagnosed?

doctor looking at x-ray | Spiral Fracture: Causes and Treatment | spiral fracture treatment

If you got injured and may potentially have a spiral fracture, you should tell the doctor about the events leading to the injury. This will help the doctor in accurately identifying the type of fracture sustained.

The doctor will then proceed to perform a physical exam on the site of the injury checking for the following:

  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • deformity
  • range of motion restriction

The doctor will order an X-ray and/or CT scan after to confirm the kind of fracture and to check if there is damage in the nearby joints.

What Are the Possible Complications of an Untreated Spiral Fracture?

Fractures can be life-threatening if left untreated. Here are associated complications for an untreated spiral fracture:

  • compartment syndrome
  • blood vessel and nerve damage
  • muscle damage
  • infection
  • sepsis
  • non-union or malunion, when the bone does not heal or heals incorrectly
  • pulmonary emboli

Compartment Syndrome Definition: A condition where too much pressure from swelling or inflammation blocks blood flow to the affected limb. This might lead to tissue damage and other complications.

Sepsis Definition: A condition where an overstimulated immune system (usually by severe infection) starts damaging other tissues.

Pulmonary Emboli Definition: A blockage of an artery in the lungs due to a blood clot.

How Is Spiral Fracture Treated?

After the injury happens, do not put any weight on the fracture. It should be splinted, if possible, to prevent it from worsening.

Call for professional help right away and request for an ambulance to get the fracture examined and treated in a hospital. While waiting for the paramedics, you can follow the following:

  • To limit inflammation and reduce blood flow, elevate the fractured limb to heart level. Only apply ice for no longer than 10 minutes at a time.
  • Do not take anti-inflammatory drugs as this may worsen internal bleeding. The only recommended over-the-counter medicine for the initial treatment of a fracture is acetaminophen.
  • Do not eat or drink anything after the injury as surgery may be required.

Spiral fracture treatment depends on how severe the break is and the amount of damage to the surrounding tissues and blood vessels.

Since the broken bones in a spiral fracture have jagged edges, the healing process can become more complicated. The injury may also result in detached bone fragments making treatment harder.

For stable spiral fractures treatment involves immobilizing the bone with a cast for about four to six weeks. This generally happens more often in children.

Who Needs Surgery?

Displaced spiral fractures, due to the jagged bones, more often than not require an open reduction surgery.

In an open reduction surgery, a surgeon will set the broken bone in place while the patient is under general anesthesia. When needed, this may also be done with the use of screws, rods, and pins to keep the bone aligned, which can be either temporary or permanent.

What Happens After a Spiral Fracture Surgery?

A splint is commonly used after surgery to reinforce the right alignment of the bones. For the first few weeks post-operation, immobilizing the bone completely is crucial for healing.

After a few weeks, doctors may recommend the use of a brace which is easily removable for cleaning, exams, and physical therapy. Patients may also need to use crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs to protect the limb from too much weight.

Recovery can become really painful but taking pain relievers is not ideal as they may slow down the healing process. Doctors usually prescribe acetaminophen with codeine to manage the pain.

Patients usually undergo physical therapy to regain full range of motion and strength.

The usual recovery from spiral fractures takes about 4-6 months. In severe cases, it may take as long as 18 months.


Learn how long it takes for a spiral fracture to heal in this video from Cash for Question:

How you react after an injury may affect the gravity of the incurred damage, may it be on you or on another person. Learning a few essential spiral fracture must-dos may prevent it from worsening and make the treatment for it go more smoothly and efficiently.

Make sure to always follow your doctor’s advice to ensure a speedy recovery prevent complications from arising.

It is important for adults to consume a healthy mix of daily vitamins. We recommend this Vitamin D3 supplement.

Do you have any other questions about a spiral fracture? Let us know in the comments section below! 

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