A guide to bone fractures



What is a fracture?

A fracture means a broken bone. Whether you have a complete or a partial fracture, you have a broken bone. A bone may be completely fractured or partially fractured in any number of ways (cross-wise, lengthwise, in the middle).


How do fractures happen?

Fractures can happen in a variety of ways, but there are three common causes:

  • Trauma accounts for most fractures. For example, a fall, a motor vehicle accident or a tackle during a football game can all result in a fracture.

  • Osteoporosis also can contribute to fractures. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that results in the "thinning" of the bone. The bones become fragile and easily broken.

  • Overuse sometimes results in stress fractures. These are common among athletes. 


Diagnosing fractures

Usually, you will know immediately if you've broken a bone. You may hear a snap or cracking sound. The area around the fracture will be tender and swollen. A limb may be deformed, or a part of the bone may puncture through the skin. Doctors usually use an X-ray to verify the diagnosis. Stress fractures are more difficult to diagnose, because they may not immediately appear on an X-ray. However, there may be pain, tenderness and mild swelling.


Types of fractures

  • Closed or simple fracture. The bone is broken, but the skin is not torn.

  • Open or compound fracture. The skin may be pierced by the bone or by a blow that breaks the skin at

    the time of the fracture. The bone may or may not be visible in the wound.


Particular types of fractures are:

  • Transverse fracture. The fracture is at right angles to the long axis of the bone.

  • Greenstick fracture. Fracture on one side of the bone, causing a bend on the other side of the bone.

  • Comminuted fracture. A fracture that results in three or more bone fragments. 











How do fractures heal?

As soon as a fracture occurs, the body acts to protect the injured area, forming a protective blood clot and callus or fibrous tissue. New "threads" of bone cells start to grow on both sides of the fracture line. These threads grow toward each other. The fracture is closed and the fibrous tissue is absorbed. 


What are the treatment options for fractures?
Doctors use casts, splints, internal fixation by means of pins, plates, screws or other devices to hold a fracture in

the correct position while the bone is healing.

External fixation methods:

Include plaster and fiberglass casts, cast-braces, splints and other devices.


Internal fixation methods:

These hold the broken pieces of bone in proper position with metal or biodegradable (implants that are not permanently in the body as they dissolve) plates, pins, or screws while the bone is healing.


The Orthopaedic trauma area deals with a wide range of very serious types of bone fractures that need immediate care. The most common conditions include fractures of the long bones (such as in the arms and legs) and the smaller bones (such as in the feet and hands). It also includes fractures to the joints (such as ankles, wrists and elbow). Treatment of these injuries is mainly done using fixation devices, which may be either internal (inside) or external (outside).




Source: Inion, 2006