A fracture is a break in a bone. It can involve any bone in the body.
Fractures may be:
Open – There is a break in the skin over the fracture.
Closed – The skin is not broken.
Fractures may also be described as:
Chip (avulsion fracture) – a small piece of bone broken away from the main bone
Compression – the bone is compressed together (i.e., vertebrae)
Greenstick – fracture in which one side of the bone is broken, and the other side is bent but not broken
Transverse – the bone is broken in a horizontal line that is perpendicular to the surface of the bone cortex
Oblique – the bone is broken in a line that is less than a 90 degree angle to the surface of the bone cortex
Spiral – the line of the fracture forms a spiral
Stress – a thin fracture line that occurs due to overuse rather than a single traumatic incident
Causes: Fractures are caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma includes:
The trauma is a physical force applied to the bone that the bone cannot withstand. Stronger bones can withstand more physical force than weaker bones.
Risk Factors: A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for a fracture include:
Decreased muscle mass
Osteoporosis – decreased bone mass, which weakens bones
Certain congenital bone conditions (rare)
Accidents or violence
Symptoms: Symptoms of a fracture include:
Pain, often severe (primary symptom)
Instability of the area around the break
Inability to use the limb or affected area normally (there may full or partial restriction in movement)
Swelling or bruising caused by the bleeding from the bone and surrounding tissues
Numbness caused by damage to a near-by nerve (rare)
Fainting or even shock (rare – only in a severe trauma)
Diagnosis: The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured yourself, and examine the injured area.
Tests may include:
X-rays – to look for a break in the bone
CT Scan (rarely) – uses computerized x-rays to make pictures of structures inside the body
MRI Scan (rarely) – a test that uses magnetic waves and radio waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
Bone Scan(rarely) – only for stress fractures
Treatment: Treatment involves:
Putting the pieces of bone together (may require anesthesia and/or surgery)
Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals itself
Devices that can hold a bone in place while it heals include:
A cast (may be used with or without surgery)
Metal pins across the bone with a frame holding them outside the bone (requires surgery)
A metal plate with screws (requires surgery)
Screws alone (requires surgery)
A rod down the middle of the bone (requires surgery)
Healing and rehabilitation Healing time ranges from three weeks for a simple finger fracture to many months for a complicated fracture of a long bone. All fractures require rehabilitation exercises to regain muscle strength and joint motion.
Delayed union – it takes longer than usual to heal but does heal
Nonunion – the bone does not heal and needs some special treatment
Infection – is more likely to happen after an open fracture or surgery
Nerve or artery damage – usually a result of a severe trauma
Late arthritis – may happen if the surface of a joint is badly damaged
Prevention: You can reduce your chances of getting a fracture by:
Not putting yourself at risk for an accident or other trauma to the bone
Eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D
Regularly doing weight-bearing exercise to build and maintain strong bones
Regularly doing strengthening exercises to build strong muscles and prevent falls
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.