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 (compound fracture): The bone pokes through the skin and can be seen. Or a deep wound exposes the bone through the skin.
  • Closed fracture (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 break. A part 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. This is 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 3 or more pieces. Fragments are present at the fracture site.
  • Segmental. The same bone is broken in 2 places. So there is a “floating” piece of bone.

What are the symptoms of a fracture?

Symptoms may be a bit different for each person. Symptoms of a broken or fractured bone may include:

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

The symptoms of a broken bone may seem like other health conditions or problems. Always see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a fracture diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will take
a full health history (including asking how the injury happened). You will also have a
physical exam. Tests used for a fracture may include:

  • X-ray. A diagnostic test that uses
    invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make pictures of internal tissues, bones,
    and organs on film.
  • MRI. An imaging test that uses large
    magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to make detailed pictures of structures
    within the body.
  • CT 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

How is a fracture treated?

The goal of treatment is to put the pieces of bone back in place, control the pain, give the bone time to heal, prevent complications, and restore normal use of the fractured area.

Treatment may include:

  • Splint or cast. This immobilizes the injured area to keep
    the bone in alignment. It protects the injured area from motion or use while the bone
    heals.
  • Medicine. This may be needed to control pain.
  • Traction. This is the use of a steady pulling action to
    stretch certain parts of the body in a certain direction. Traction often uses
    pulleys, strings, weights, and a metal frame attached over or on the bed. The purpose
    of traction is to stretch the muscles and tendons around the broken bone. This helps
    the bone ends to align and heal.
  • Surgery. Surgery may be needed to put certain types of
    broken bones back into place. Sometimes internal fixation devices (metal rods or pins
    located inside the bone) or external fixation devices (metal rods or pins located
    outside of the body) are used to hold the bone fragments in place while they
    heal.

Fractures can take months to heal as broken bones “knit” back together when new bone is formed between the broken parts.

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