When good bones go bad

Published on July 20th, 2012
When good bones go bad

Without your bones, you’d be a shapeless pile of sludgy skin and muscle. But what happens if your bones are too weak, or if they start growing in places they shouldn’t? Believe it or not, these things happen…

FOP: When muscle turns into bone
You’ve got muscles and you’ve got bones, right? But imagine what it would feel like if your muscles started turning into bone. Ouch!

You wouldn’t be able to lift up your arms or even open your mouth… And this actually happens to people with a disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), which causes soft tissue to turn into bone whenever the person suffers any kind of trauma. Yikes! Even just getting a bruise can trigger unnecessary bone formation, and eventually, the patient gets locked inside a statue-like body that’s way too full of bone. But don’t panic – the disease is extremely rare, affecting only one in two million people.

Brittle bone disease: when sneezing breaks a bone
Most people’s bones won’t break unless something really horrible happens to them, such as an accident or a very bad fall. But people with osteogenesis imperfecta – or brittle bone disease – can break a bone just by sneezing or getting a hug that’s a little to hard! This disease is also extremely rare, and it happens when the body doesn’t make enough collagen – the cement-like stuff that makes your bones strong and flexible. Click here to read about someone who’s broken her bones more than 200 times!

The splint: a smart solution to broken bones
If you break your arm, it’s important to keep it totally still while it heals. And that’s why people invented splints – unbending materials that get strapped to a broken body part so it stays still while the bone heals itself.

But a splint shouldn’t just keep the bone nice and still – it should also allow the wound around the bone to heal as quickly as possible. For a long time, medical experts believed that best way to do with was with an absorbent split material that could suck up moisture and keep the healing area dry. But there was a problem: the material doctors used at the time – plaster casting – didn’t just suck up the moisture… it held onto it and wouldn’t let go, and over time, all that the moisture would weaken the splint and sometimes even slow down the healing.

That’s where a guy named Matt Scholz came in. As the senior research specialist for 3M’s Medical Products Resource Division, he noticed what was happening and realised that the ideal cast should let moisture evaporate away from the healing area rather than trapping it inside. So he joined up with Bob Zaspel, a machinist at 3M, and created the world’s first breathable splint, called the 3M Scotchcast One Step Splint. And today, every medical expert agrees that a splint should let moisture evaporate away from the wound.