The principles of fracture management in polytrauma patients continue to be of crucial importance. Over the last five decades, various strategies of fracture treatment in the multiply injured patient have evolved. The various new methodologies remain controversial. In the beginning, early surgical fracture treatment of long bone fractures after multiple trauma was not routinely advocated. It was believed that the polytraumatised patient did not have the physiological reserve to withstand prolonged operations. The introduction of standardised, definitive surgical protocols, led to the concept of early total care (ETC) in the 1980s. This concept was subsequently applied universally, in all patient groups, regardless of injury severity and distribution. Later, it became apparent that certain patients did not appear to benefit from ETC. Indeed, extended operative procedures, during the early phase of multiple trauma recovery, were associated with adverse outcome. This applied for patients with significant thoracic, abdominal and head injuries and those with high injury severity scores (ISS). In response, the concept of damage control orthopaedics (DCO) was developed in the 1990s. DCO methodology is characterised by primary, rapid, temporary fracture stabilization. Secondary definitive management follows, once the acute phase of systemic recovery has passed. We explore the processes underlying the systemic biological impact of fracture fixation, the evolution of operative treatment strategies for major fractures in polytrauma and the current trends toward staged management of these patients.