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How to Set Broken Bones in an Emergency

Obviously, if you have a broken bone, you’ll want to go to a professional to have the bone reset. However, imagine that you are out hiking or are in an emergency situation, and you break a bone. What can you do to set the bone or at least hold it in place until you can get some help?

There are two types of fractures - open and closed. Open fractures typically have a bone protruding through the skin and includes an open wound. A closed fracture has no open wound.

Set a broken or fractured boneIf you have an open fracture, it is recommended that you manipulate the injury as little as possible. This is due to the fact that you can mess up nerve and blood vessels.

If you notice that there is a lot of swelling, numbness or discoloration below the break, this may be a sign that a major blood vessel has been severed. If this is the case, you’ll need to control the internal bleeding, allow the person to rest and provide them with lots of fluids.

If you feel that you need to quickly place the bone back in position you can use a tree notch to assist you in holding your arm in place while you adjust.

If broken bones are in a very muscular area (ie. thigh), you’ll need to create a splint until you can get some help. Here is an example of a splint that you can make in the wilderness:

• Get two forked branches or saplings at least 5 centimeters in diameter. Measure one from the patient's armpit to 20 to 30 centimeters past his unbroken leg. Measure the other from the groin to 20 to 30 centimeters past the unbroken leg. Ensure that both extend an equal distance beyond the end of the leg.
• Pad the two splints. Notch the ends without forks and lash a 20- to 30-centimeter cross member made from a 5-centimeter diameter branch between them.
• Using available material (vines, cloth, rawhide), tie the splint around the upper portion of the body and down the length of the broken leg. Follow the splinting guidelines.
• With available material, fashion a wrap that will extend around the ankle, with the two free ends tied to the cross member.
• Place a 10- by 2.5-centimeter stick in the middle of the free ends of the ankle wrap between the cross member and the foot. Using the stick, twist the material to make the traction easier.
• Continue twisting until the broken leg is as long or slightly longer than the unbroken leg.
• Lash the stick to maintain traction.

Note: Over time you may lose traction because the material weakened. Check the traction periodically. If you must change or repair the splint, maintain the traction manually for a short time. (Courtesy of Wilderness Survival.)

Set a broken bone

Set a fractured boneDislocated bones are when bone joints have been separated. They can be very painful. They can push against nerve and blood vessels causing nerve tenderness and your circulatory system to have trouble.

You can tell if you have a dislocated bone because it will be tender along the joint, have swelling, discoloration, limited range of motion and sometimes deformity.

You can use simple weights to pull the bones back into place. If done properly, the pain should decrease and allow for natural function and circulation.

After you place the bone back in place, you should leave it immobilized for a few days. You can create a simple splint - holding the area in place to ensure proper healing.


Please remember that these techniques can be used in extreme situations and we recommend that you seek out professional assistance if it is available. You should always be prepared to administer first aid, but get professional emergency assistance as soon as possible.

6 thoughts on “How to Set Broken Bones in an Emergency”

  • Bill

    Interesting. I believe most of us should take a
    first aid class again.

  • scgator2001

    If you have an open fracture, it is not recommended that you manipulate the injury as little as possible. This is due to the fact that you can mess up nerve and blood vessels.

    I bet you meant to say "IT IS RECOMMENDED"

    • Dan

      Actually he was correct the first time. It is not recommended that a person manipulate or try reducing an open or compound fracture if you can get to a hospital in several days due to the possibility of causing further harm by cutting nerves and blood vessel when the jagged bone ends are retracted back into the soft tissue with gentle traction. It also introduces potential bacteria into the open wound causing possible osteomyelitis which is very hard to treat and often takes months and rarely even year of antibiotic therapy to clear up. If there was no chance of ever seeing a Dr. or hospital in a true SHTF situation then the wound and bone protruding would need to be rinsed of with sterile water that had been previously boiled and cooled to remove dirt and mud and if your lucky have some preferably betadine or alcohol to dab on and then gentle traction applied distally until it becomes the same length as the normal extremity. The bone usually retracts back into wound hopefully aligning at the other bone. Have someone else splint extemity in place while holding gentle traction and apply clean dressings to open wound changing daily. Check for distal pulses and sensation. Hurts like all get out to reduce these but usually feels a lot better once done, if your lucky you won't die of gangrene. Splint will need to be secured frequently to make sure it does not come too loose but do not cut off circulation and of course no weight bearing for about 2 months on affected leg if it's a leg. This is obviously only in a shtf scenario. The only time I would ever reduced these in the field was when they had no pulse and the extremity was not getting any circulation. I always had pain medicine in truck to ease the pain a little. If you can get to a ER in a day or 2 then just cover with dressing and splint in position found on those open fractures until you can get transported out of the boonies. Retired Medic 30 years.

      • Jennifer

        Thank you so much. I have two active younger boys. I was so afraid of this in a SHTF situation. Thank you for the information.

  • jim biggun

    extremely interesting! I have never had a first aid class that even scratched the the surface about compound fractures much less explained tractioning them. Yes it would be nice to have another F/A class with some better instruction ! Kuddo s to you.

  • Caitlin

    this website is great! it will definitely help me out in biology and our first aid tester lessons at school.

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