A bone fracture is a break in a bone. Fractures are common. Most people fracture at least one bone during their lifetime.

The severity of fractures increase with age. Children’s bones are more flexible and less likely to break. Falls or other accidents that do not harm children can cause complete fractures in older adults. Older adults suffer from fractures more than children because their bones are more likely to be brittle.

Is a fracture the same as a broken bone?

Yes. Most doctors use the terms fracture and a broken bone to describe the same thing. A fracture is just as serious as a broken bone because they are the same thing.

Symptoms of a fracture

The most common symptoms are:

  • swelling around the injured area
  • loss of function in the injured area
  • bruising around the injured area
  • deformity of a limb

What causes a fracture?

Fractures occur when a bone can’t withstand the physical force exerted on it.

Types of Fractures

There are many types of fractures: simple, stress, comminuted, impacted, compound, complete and incomplete.

  • Simple: Bone breaks into two pieces.
  • Stress: Hairline break that is often invisible on the x-ray for the first six weeks after the onset of pain.
  • Comminuted: Bone fragments into several pieces
  • Impacted: One fragment of bone is embedded into another fragment of bone.
  • Compound: Bone protrudes through the skin. Also called an open fracture.
  • Complete: Bone snaps completely into two or more pieces.
  • Incomplete: Bone cracks but doesn’t separate.

Treatment Options

To heal properly, the bone must be realigned. The most common realignment procedures are:

  • Immobilization using a cast or splint
    • Setting of bone through surgery. When surgery is needed, the procedure is called an open reduction. The doctor will give you local or general anesthesia. (General anesthesia will put you to sleep.) During the surgical procedure, the doctor may insert a rod, pin, plate, or screw into the injury to hold the bone in place. Advantages of surgery include: early mobility of injured bone and some use of the injured bone within weeks rather than months.
  • Medication and rehabilitation
    • After the bone is realigned, medication and rehabilitation will help the recovery process. Medication is used to lessen the pain. Rehabilitation prevents stiffness. Rehabilitation involves light movement of the tissues surrounding the injury. It helps increase blood flow which will aid the healing process.

Side effects of treatments

If the fracture is closed repaired, the bone may not heal properly or it may not function properly. If the fracture is open repaired, infection, bleeding, damage to blood vessels or nerves, and allergic reactions to the anesthesia may occur.

How serious is a fracture?

The seriousness depends on the age of the individual and location of the fracture. Some fractures only require temporary protection (crutches, splint). Other, more serious (hip and knee) fractures require surgery.

Questions to ask your doctor about broken bones

  • Do I need a splint or cast?
  • When can I start putting pressure on the broken bone?
  • Will I have to have surgery on my broken bone?
  • What can I do about persistent pain?
  • Do I need a bone density scan?
  • How long will it take for me to heal?
  • What exercises should I do?
  • When can I shower and bathe?
  • How long will it take for the swelling to go down?