There is a range of fracture types, including:
- 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. This is more common among children, whose bones are softer and more elastic.
- Hairline fracture - a partial fracture of the bone. Sometimes this type of fracture is harder to detect with routine xrays.
- Impacted fracture - when the bone is fractured, one fragment of bone goes into another.
- Intraarticular fracture - where the break extends into the surface of a joint
- 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.
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 often include some of the following:
- 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
When a large bone is affected, such as the pelvis or femur:
- the sufferer may look pale and clammy
- there may be dizziness (feeling faint)
- feelings of sickness and nausea.
If possible, do not move a person with a broken bone until a healthcare professional is present and can assess the situation and, if required, apply a splint. 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.
Most fractures are caused by a bad fall or automobile accident. Healthy bones are extremely tough and resilient and can withstand surprisingly powerful impacts. As people 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 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.
Heals in the wrong position - this is known as a malunion; either the fracture heals in the wrong position or it shifts (the fracture itself shifts).
Disruption of bone growth - if a childhood bone fracture affects the growth plate, there is a risk that the normal development of that bone may be affected, raising the risk of a subsequent deformity.
Persistent bone or bone marrow infection - if there is a break in the skin, as may happen with a compound fracture, bacteria can get in and infect the bone or bone marrow, which can become a persistent infection (chronic osteomyelitis).
Patients may need to be hospitalized and treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, surgical drainage and curettage is required.
Bone death (avascular necrosis) - if the bone loses its essential supply of blood it may die.
Nutrition and sunlight - the human body needs adequate supplies of calcium for healthy bones. Milk, cheese, yoghurt, and dark green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium.
Physical activity - the more weight-bearing exercises you do, the stronger and denser your bones will be.
Examples include skipping, walking, running, and dancing - any exercise where the body pulls on the skeleton.
Older age not only results in weaker bones, but often in less physical activity, which further increases the risk of even weaker bones. It is important for people of all ages to stay physically active.
Menopause - estrogen, which regulates a woman's calcium, drops during menopause, making calcium regulation much more difficult. Consequently, women need to be especially careful about the density and strength of their bones during and after the menopause.
The following steps may help reduce post-menopausal osteoporosis risk:
- Do several short weight-bearing exercise sessions each week.
- Do not smoke.
- Consume only moderate quantities of alcohol, or don't drink it.
- Get adequate exposure to daylight.
- Make sure your diet has plenty of calcium-rich foods. For those who find this difficult, a doctor may recommend calcium supplements.