By Amber Kujath, PhD, RN, ONC
Halloween is an orthopedic nurse’s favorite time of year. At no other time does a nurse who specializes in the care of bones get to see visual reminders of skeletons: decorations, bone candy, and perhaps an adult-sized skeleton t-shirt that says, “Give me a break!” For added irony, National Orthopedic Nurses’ day is Oct. 30, one day before Halloween.
But what is truly scary and more serious is that every day people suffer 8.9 million fractures each year worldwide due to osteoporosis, a common bone disease. Most of them are women. One in three women over age 50 will experience osteoporotic fractures, compared to one in five men over 50.
Those 8.9 million reported fractures do not include the fractures from trauma related to sports or falls from ladders and roofs. Additional bone disorders, like osteoarthritis, limit the ability to work for 8 million working-age adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control.
It is inevitable; at some point you or someone you know will have had a broken bone or joint replacement. With the frequency of injuries or conditions affecting all our bones, nurses who specialize in the care of people with fractures or joint disease can ease the burden of those with musculoskeletal conditions.
I know. I have been a board-certified orthopedic nurse for 14 years and have helped care for hundreds of patients, family, friends and friends of friends.
As a nurse educator at Rush University College of Nursing, we prepare nurses to care for patients in a variety of settings, and we are in the business of creating generalists. Most students will receive fewer than six hours of class instruction on the care of people with bone disorders. A few may get an eight-week hospital experience taking care of patients who have had a joint replacement. But if you have a fracture, we can likely agree that when you are affected by a specific health condition you would appreciate a nurse who has extensive experience and is board certified in guiding patients through complicated injuries.
Bone and joint health tips
Here are some tips on bone health and joint care from me — an orthopedic nurse — that you can use all year:
1. If it’s broken, fix it: Fractures are usually unexpected and cause extreme disruptions to daily activities. If you have not experienced this firsthand, imagine how much extra time it takes to eat, prepare food or get dressed with an arm or leg in a cast. Anyone who has fractured a leg and needed crutches, walker or wheelchair will tell you where the ramps and automatic doors are for their workplace and grocery store. Or where they are not. Blogs, wikis, and YouTube videos offer the lived experience of many people with fractures. Still, working with a nurse familiar with orthopedic techniques can get you on a quick road to recovery, prevent complications and help you find products to help assist you while you recover.
2. Long-term chronic care is essential. By the year 2040, more than 26 percent of the projected U.S. adult population will have arthritis. Osteoarthritis can cause pain long after an old tennis injury began and it can flare up after a long shift at work, or on your coveted free time. Less common injuries like carpal tunnel, tendonitis and rotator cuff tears can also be disruptive to your work and life. Orthopedic nurses understand and can offer treatment options, lifestyle changes, and products that can help with joint pain before you decide to have surgery. Some medications you can take by mouth, put on your skin, or they can be injected into joints that can provide longterm relief of your joint pain. Special exercise and weight loss can provide some relief from certain joint disorders. While surgery is the only cure for osteoarthritis there can be a long list of nonsurgical options to provide relief.
3. You need a hero. Of course the specialized care of an orthopedic nurse is not a replacement for care by a physician or orthopedic surgeon trained to treat these conditions. However, a nurse specializing in the care of your bone and joint condition can be your advocate and the coordinator of the team of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, physical therapists, radiographers and athletic trainers caring for you.
The Halloween decorations featuring the skeletons that are my specialty are visible in stores across the country. The reminders make me smile; I have passion for my work in my bones. But the need for quality orthopedic care is more than seasonal and is surely no joke.