What is a fracture?

A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. When a fracture happens, it’s classified as either open or closed:

  • Open fracture (compound fracture): The bone pokes through the skin and can be seen. Or a deep wound exposes the bone through the skin.
  • Closed fracture (simple fracture). The bone is broken, but the skin is intact.

Fractures have a variety of names. Here is a listing of the common types that may happen:

  • Greenstick. This is an incomplete break. A part of the bone is broken, causing the other side to bend.
  • Transverse. The break is in a straight line across the bone.
  • Spiral. The break spirals around the bone. This is common in a twisting injury.
  • Oblique. The break is diagonal across the bone.
  • Compression. The bone is crushed. This causes the broken bone to be wider or flatter in appearance.
  • Comminuted. The bone has broken into 3 or more pieces. Fragments are present at the fracture site.
  • Segmental. The same bone is broken in 2 places. So there is a “floating” piece of bone.

What causes fractures?

Fractures most often happen when more force is applied to the bone than the bone can take. Bones are weakest when they are twisted.  

Bone fractures can be caused by falls, injury, or as a result of a direct hit or kick to the body.

Overuse or repetitive motions can tire muscles and put more pressure on the bone. This causes stress fractures. This is more common in athletes and military recruits.

Fractures can also be caused by diseases that weaken the bone. This includes osteoporosis or cancer in the bones.

What are the symptoms of a fracture?

Symptoms may be a bit different for each person. Symptoms of a broken or fractured bone may include:

  • Sudden pain
  • Trouble using or moving the injured area or nearby joints
  • Unable to bear weight
  • Swelling
  • Obvious deformity
  • Warmth, bruising, or redness

The symptoms of a broken bone may seem like other health conditions or problems. Always see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a fracture diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will take
a full health history (including asking how the injury happened). You will also have a
physical exam. Tests used for a fracture may include:

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test that uses
    invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make pictures of internal tissues, bones,
    and organs on film.
  • MRI. An imaging test that uses large
    magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed pictures of structures
    within the body.
  • CT 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.

CT scan