Ask Dr. Geier – How do plates and screws help a broken bone heal?

Putting a broken bone back in place and holding it with plates and screws is one of the most common types of surgery we do as orthopedic surgeons. Why do we use plates and screws, though? In this Ask Dr. Geier column, I discuss that question from a reader concerned about what the hardware does to the bone.

Jorge asks:
I don’t understand how drilling your bone to put a plate and screws helps a fracture heal. Are you not messing it up more by doing this?

When we perform open reduction and internal fixation (the formal term for the surgery) of a fracture, we are essentially opening the skin to get down to the bone, putting it back in the proper position, and using hardware to keep it in that position. Yes, doing so requires drilling holes in the bone that the screws fill up. But we do that because often just putting the bone back in place won’t hold it in good position until your body heals the fracture.

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In this video, I explain why orthopedic surgeons use metal plates and screws instead of other options as well as how a fracture actually heals in the first place. You will better understand why some fractures need surgery and if and when plates and screws are removed.

Have you broken a bone and the surgeon put in pins, screws or plates? What was the fracture, and how did it go? I’d love to hear your experience below!

Also read:
Ask Dr. Geier – What does surgery and rehab of a tibial plateau fracture entail?
Ask Dr. Geier – Should you have hardware removed after your ankle fracture heals?

Please remember, while I appreciate your questions, I cannot and will not offer specific medical advice by email, online, on my show, or in the comments at the end of these posts. My responses are meant to provide general medical information and education. Please consult your physician or health care provider for your specific medical concerns.

2 Responses to Ask Dr. Geier – How do plates and screws help a broken bone heal?

  1. Hi Dr Geier

    36 year old male who had a fib and tibia break playing soccer in July ’16. Was fixed with an intermudullary nail and screws. The screws are out but we’re about to assess where we are with removing the nail. In your experience, can one live with the nail? I hate the thought of surgery and more recuperation just after I’ve started to get my life back on track…although I suppose once it’s done, it’s done.

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