Bones make up the skeleton of the body. They allow us the ability to interact with our environment and lift out body up against gravity. A fracture is the medical term for a broken bone and is a common injury. The average person experiences two fractures during a lifetime. They occur when the physical force exerted on the bone is stronger than the bone itself.

Your risk of fracture depends on many factors, but age is the biggest factor. Broken bones are very common in childhood, although children’s fractures are generally less complicated than fractures in adults. As you age, your bones naturally become more brittle making you more likely to suffer fractures that probably would not have occurred in youth. 

There are many types of fractures, but the main categories are displaced, non-displaced, open, and closed. Displaced and non-displaced fractures refer to the alignment of the fractured bone.

Severity of Broken Bones

One thing most fractures have in common is the pain they cause. The severity of the fracture affects the level of pain you experience.

These are the main types of fractures in terms of how severe they are:

  • Complete Fracture – In a complete fracture, your bone breaks completely. It is snapped or crushed into two or more pieces.
  • Incomplete or Partial Fracture – There is a crack that does not reach across the entire width of the bone.
  • Greenstick Fracture – A portion of the bone breaks but not completely through. The injured bone may also bend near the broken portion. This type of injury is most common in children.
  • Compound or Open Fracture– When a broken bone breaks through the skin, it is classified as an open fracture. The bone is sometimes visible through the wound. Open fractures can become infected and require surgical cleaning and treatment as soon as possible.
  • Simple or Closed Fracture – Closed fractures do not penetrate the skin or carry the same risk of infection as open fractures. While closed fractures are not usually considered emergencies, they still require prompt treatment. The damage from these fractures can harm the surrounding soft tissue, resulting in fracture blisters. 

Positioning of Broken Bones

The following fracture types describe the position of the broken bone in the body:

  • Comminuted– A comminuted fracture leaves the bone in fragments. It is most common after severe trauma, such as a car accident, and is more likely to occur in the hands or feet
  • Nondisplaced– The fractured bone does not move out of place (a clean break).
  • Displaced– A displaced fracture is a broken bone that snaps so far out of place that the two ends no longer line up straight. 
  • Segmental– There are multiple fractures in one bone that create one or more separate pieces in the middle, or “segments.”
  • Angulated – Degrees and direction to convey the amount of “unbending” needed to realign the fragments. Specifying the direction of deviation of the distal fragment is the most consistent way to describe the direction. 
  • Overriding– A displaced fracture where the bone fragments overlap.
  • Impacted– Occurs when the broken ends of the bone are jammed together by the force of the injury.

Shapes of Bone Fractures

The fracture itself – as in the line across the bone that breaks it partially or into two or more pieces – also has terminology. Because the bones in the arms and legs are much longer than other bones in the body, these fractures can be described in several ways: 

  • Linear – The fracture is vertical, or parallel with the main part of the bone (the shaft).
  • Transverse – A transverse fracture is one that occurs at a 90-degree angle, straight across the bone. It happens when the impact comes perpendicular to the site of injury.
  • Oblique – A fracture that results in the fragment being approximately 45 degrees from the shaft.
  • Spiral – A fracture whose line is curved, in a spiral-like pattern, instead of straight.

Symptoms

You may sustain a broken bone in any number of ways, including auto accidents, falls or playing sports. Most of the time, you know immediately that you have fractured a bone from a variety of symptoms. 

Signs and symptoms of a fracture include:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Discoloration
  • Bleeding
  • Inability to bear weight
  • Pain
  • Deformity

If you suspect that you have a fracture, seek treatment as soon as possible. If possible, do not move a person with a broken bone until a healthcare professional is present and can assess the situation and, if required, apply a splint. If the patient is in a dangerous place, such as in the middle of a busy road, one sometimes has to act before the emergency services arrive. 

Causes

It is important to remember that a fracture, break, or crack all describe the same situation, an injury to the bone where it has been damaged. One term is not more serious than another. Fracture, break, and crack all mean the same thing.

When a bone has an outside force exerted upon it, like a blow or a fall, there is potential that it cannot withstand the amount of force and it breaks. That loss of integrity results in a fracture. Healthy bones are extremely tough and resilient and can withstand surprisingly powerful impacts. As people age, two factors make their risk of fractures greater: Weaker bones and a greater risk of falling. Children, who tend to have more physically active lifestyles than adults, are also prone to fractures.

Depending upon the situation, the amount of force required may not be very great. People with osteoporosis, the bones lack calcium and are brittle, a minor injury or even gravity may create enough of a force to cause a vertebral compression fracture of the back or a hip fracture. 

Treatment for a Broken Bone

Fractures in a bone can be treated in various ways, depending on the location and severity of the injury. The most common type of fracture treatment is cast immobilization. That is because most broken bones mend correctly when a plaster or fiberglass cast has been applied to keep the broken ends in proper position while they heal.

The treatment for growth plate injuries depends upon the type of fracture involved. In all cases, the treatment should begin as early as possible and include the following:

  • Immobilization: The injured limb is covered with a cast or a splint may be given to wear. The child will be advised to limit activities and avoid putting pressure on the injured limb.
  • Manipulation or Surgery: If the fracture is displaced and the ends of the broken bones do not meet in proper position, then your doctor will unite the bone ends into correct position either manually (manipulation) or surgically. Oftentimes, a screw or wire may be used to hold the growth plate in place. The bone is then immobilized with a cast to promote healing. 
  • Physical Therapy: Exercises such as normal range of motion, strength, and functional mobility after a fracture should be started only after the fracture has healed. These are done to strengthen the muscles of the injured area and improve the movement of the joint. 
  • Long-Term Follow Up: Periodic evaluations are needed to monitor the healing. Evaluation includes X-rays of matching limbs at intervals of 3 to 6 months for at least 2 years.

Ask Your Doctor

A fracture can be painful and can lead to significant functional loss and disability. Depending on the severity of the injury, the loss may be temporary or permanent. Working to gain mobility and strength after a fracture should be your main goal after a fracture. Physical therapy can help you return to optimum functional mobility as quickly as possible.

To learn more about bone health or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, call us at 800-698-1280.

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