A fracture, also referred to as a bone fracture,
A significant percentage of bone fractures occur because of high force impact or stress.
A fracture caused by a medical condition is known as a pathological fracture.
Contents of this article:
Fast facts on fractures
Here are some key points about fractures. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Most bone fractures are caused by falls and accidents
- Bone fractures caused by disease are referred to as pathological fractures
- A compound fracture is one that also causes injury to the overlying skin
- Around half of women over 50 years of age will have a fracture
- There are a number of different types of fractures, including avulsion, comminuted and hairline fractures
- Symptoms of bone fractures include pain, swelling and bruising
- Stress fractures resulting from repetitive movements are relatively common
- The best way to diagnose a fracture is by X-ray
- Bone healing is a natural process, treatment revolves around giving the bone optimum conditions to heal itself.
What is a bone fracture?
The word "break" is commonly used by lay (non-professional) people.
Fractures can occur in any bone of the body.
Among health care professionals, especially bone specialists, such as orthopedic surgeons, "break" is a much less common term when talking about bones.
A crack (not only a break) in the bone is also known as a fracture. Fractures can occur in any bone in the body.
There are several different ways in which a bone can fracture; for example a clean break to the bone that does not damage surrounding tissue or tear through the skin is known as a closed fracture or a simple fracture.
On the other hand, one that damages surrounding skin or tissue is known as a compound fracture or an open fracture. Compound or open fractures are generally more serious than simple fractures, with a much higher risk of infection.
Most human bones are surprisingly strong and can generally stand up to fairly strong impacts or forces. However, if that force is too powerful, or there is something wrong with the bone, it can fracture.
The older we get the less force our bones can withstand. Approximately 50% of women and about 20% of men have a fracture after they are 50 years old (Source: National Health Service, UK).
Because children's bones are more elastic, when they do have fractures they tend to be different. Children also have growth plates at the end of their bones - areas of growing bone - which may sometimes be damaged.
Types of bone fracture
- Avulsion fracture - a muscle or ligament pulls on the bone, fracturing it
- Comminuted fracture - the bone is shattered into many pieces
- Compression (crush) fracture - generally occurs in the spongy bone in the spine. For example, the front portion of a vertebra in the spine may collapse due to osteoporosis
- Fracture dislocation - a joint becomes dislocated, and one of the bones of the joint has a fracture
- Greenstick fracture - the bone partly fractures on one side, but does not break completely because the rest of the bone can bend. More common among children, whose bones are softer and more elastic
- Hairline fracture - a partial fracture of the bone. Often this type of fracture is harder to detect
- Impacted fracture - when the bone is fractured, one fragment of bone goes into another
- Longitudinal fracture - the break is along the length of the bone
- Oblique fracture - A fracture that is diagonal to a bone's long axis
- Pathological fracture - when an underlying disease or condition has already weakened the bone, resulting in a fracture (bone fracture caused by an underlying disease/condition that weakened the bone)
- Spiral fracture - A fracture where at least one part of the bone has been twisted
- Stress fracture - more common among athletes. A bone breaks because of repeated stresses and strains
- Torus (buckle) fracture - bone deforms but does not crack. More common in children. It is painful but stable
- Transverse fracture - a straight break right across a bone.
Symptoms of bone fractures
The signs and symptoms of a fracture vary according to which bone is affected, the patient's age and general health, as well as the severity of the injury. However, they may include some of the following:
Symptoms of a bone fracture can vary wildly depending on the affected region and severity.
- Discolored skin around the affected area
- Angulation - the affected area may be bent at an unusual angle
- The patient is unable to put weight on the injured area
- The patient cannot move the affected area
- The affected bone or joint may have a grating sensation
- If it is an open fracture there may be bleeding.
- The sufferer may look pale and clammy
- There may be dizziness (feeling faint)
- Feelings of sickness and nausea.
When a large bone is affected, such as the pelvis or femur:
If possible, do not move a person with a broken bone until a health care professional is present and can assess the situation and, if required, apply a splint. Obviously, if the patient is in a dangerous place, such as in the middle of a busy road, one sometimes has to act before the emergency services arrive.
Causes of bone fractures
The majority of fractures are caused by a bad fall or automobile accident. Healthy bones are extremely tough and resilient and can withstand surprisingly powerful impacts. When people enter old age two factors make their risk of fractures greater; weaker bones and a greater risk of falling.
Children, who tend to have more physically active lifestyles than adults, are also prone to fractures.
People with underlying illnesses and conditions that may weaken their bones also have a higher risk of fractures. Examples include osteoporosis, infection, or a tumor. As mentioned earlier, this type of fracture is known as a pathological fracture.
Stress fractures, which result from repeated stresses and strains, commonly found among professional sports people, are also common causes of fractures.
On the next page, we look at diagnosis, treatment, complications and prevention of bone fractures.