Pin Care: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

You have a broken bone. To help the bone heal correctly, your doctor has used an external fixator. This helps hold your broken bone in place from outside your body. It connects to the bone using pins or wires.

You will have the fixator until the bone is healed. How long this takes depends on the break. In general, a simple break can take up to 6 weeks to heal, and a more complex break can take up to 1 year to heal.

The areas where the pins go into the skin are called the pin sites. You must keep these areas clean to prevent infection. An infection could make a pin become loose or even require your doctor to take out a pin.

You generally can move around normally when the bone is healing. How much you can move depends on which bone was broken and the type of break it was.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Pin care

Your doctor will give you specific information on when and how to clean the pin sites. The following is general information.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Get your cleaning supplies ready. Your doctor will give you these. They usually include:
    • A cleaning solution.
    • Cups to hold the solution.
    • Cotton swabs.
    • Cotton gauze.
  • Wash your hands again.
  • Use your fingers to massage the area around the pin. This can move skin attached to the pin away from the pin and help any fluid rise to the skin, where you can clean it.
  • Clean each pin site with cotton swabs. Use a new swab for each pin site. Don't start cleaning a new site with a used swab.
    • Dip the swab in the cleaning solution.
    • Clean the pin site. Circle around the site, moving away from the pin. If there is any crust around the pin, remove it with the swab. Use as many swabs as you need until the site is clean.
    • Dry the area with a new swab.
  • Clean the pin with a swab or gauze dipped in the cleaning solution. Pay close attention to any threaded area. You don't have to clean the wire unless there is fluid or crust on it. Use a new swab or piece of gauze for each pin.
  • For the first few days, wrap gauze loosely around each pin site.
  • Clean the fixator with gauze or cotton swabs dipped in the cleaning solution.

Other instructions

  • Your doctor will tell you when you can take a shower. When you are able to, you can clean the fixator with soap and water. Dry it with a clean towel.
  • Prop up the pin area on a pillow, if the fixator is on your arm or leg. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Be careful when moving around. You don't want to bump or snag the fixator on anything. Your doctor may give you specific instructions on what you can and can't do.
  • Avoid clothing that pulls or rubs on the fixator. If possible, don't wear clothing over it. Be careful when getting dressed so that you do not snag your clothing.
  • Your doctor will tell you how and when you can exercise and when you can drive.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • The pin area is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in the pin area.
  • Your cast or splint feels too tight. You can't move your body with the cast.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You have new or increased pain.
  • You notice loose parts in the fixator or it is out of place.
  • There is bleeding around a pin site that won't stop.
  • You have drainage or a bad smell coming from the cast or splint.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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