Fractures

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 (also called compound fracture): The bone pokes through the skin and can be seen, or a deep wound exposes the bone through the skin.
  • Closed fracture (also called 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 fracture. A portion 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; 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 three or more pieces and fragments are present at the fracture site.
  • Segmental. The same bone is fractured in two 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, trauma, or as a result of a direct blow 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.

Fractures can also be caused by diseases that weaken the bone, such as osteoporosis or cancer in the bones.

What are the symptoms of a fracture?

The following are the most common symptoms of a fracture. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms of a broken or fractured bone may include:

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

The symptoms of a broken bone may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a fracture diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history (including asking how the injury happened) and physical exam, tests used for a fracture may include the following:

  • 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 (also called a 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.

CT scan