A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. A fracture is just a different term for a broken bone.
There are several types of fractures, and the type determines the treatment. Whether you’re seen at an urgent care location or at your UCHealth primary care provider, we’ll develop the best treatment plan for your case.
Types of fractures
There are several common types of fractures that we treat regularly:
- Avulsion. Happens near a ligament or tendon, and when this type of fracture occurs, the tendon or ligament pulls away with bone fragments attached.
- Comminuted. The bone has broken into three or more pieces, and bone fragments are present at the fracture site.
- Compression. The bone is crushed. This causes the broken bone to be wider or flatter in appearance.
- Greenstick. An incomplete fracture where a portion of the bone is broken, causing the other side to bend.
- Hairline, or stress fracture. Small cracks appear in the bone.
- Segmental. The same bone is fractured in two places, so there is a “floating” piece of bone.
- Spiral. The break spirals around the bone; common in a twisting injury.
- Oblique. The break is diagonal across the bone.
- Transverse. The break is in a straight line across the bone.
In addition, we may further classify the type of fracture as either open or closed:
- Closed fracture, or simple fracture. The bone is broken, but the skin is intact.
- Open fracture, or compound fracture: The bone pokes through the skin and can be seen, or a deep wound exposes the bone through the skin.
We can begin treatment for most closed fractures at your UCHealth provider’s office or urgent care. You should go to emergency care immediately for an open fracture or a suspected spinal fracture, as they will require specialized treatment like emergency surgery.
Diagnosis and possible treatments
We start by taking your complete medical history including how the injury happened. We perform a physical exam, and we may use any of these tests to properly diagnose a fracture:
- X-ray. A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make pictures of internal tissues, bones and organs on film.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An imaging test that uses large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer to produce detailed pictures of structures within the body.
- Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan). This is an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat and organs.
Results from these tests will also help guide your personalized treatment plan.
A cast or splint is almost always part of a treatment plan. The goal of treatment is to put the pieces of bone back in place, control the pain, give the bone time to heal, prevent complications and restore normal use of the fractured area. This treatment protocol may include:
- Splint or cast. This immobilizes the injured area to keep the bone in alignment, and protects it from motion or use while the bone heals.
- Medicine. This may be needed to control pain.
- Traction. Traction is the use of a steady pulling action to stretch certain parts of the body in a certain direction. Traction often uses pulleys, strings, weights and a metal frame attached over or on the bed. The purpose of traction is to stretch the muscles and tendons around the broken bone to help the bone ends to align and heal.
- Surgery. Surgery may be needed to put certain types of broken bones back into place. Occasionally, internal fixation (metal rods or pins located inside the bone) or external fixation devices (metal rods or pins located outside of the body) are used to hold the bone fragments in place while they heal.
A broken bone doesn't have to stop you for long
Broken bones are a part of life, especially if you’re active in sports—but that doesn’t have to keep you out of the game for too long.
We’re here to help you fully recover, including any specialized orthopedic treatment you might need long term to enjoy the activities you love.
MedlinePlus: National Library of Medicine. Fractures (https://medlineplus.gov/fractures.html)
Orthoinfo: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Fractures (Broken Bones) (https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/fractures-broken-bones/)
NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases – National Resource Center. Once Is Enough: A Guide to Preventing Future Fractures (https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/fracture)