Fractures: An Overview
Fractured means broken.
Whether you have a complete or a partial fracture, you have a broken
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
· 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
· 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
Usually, you will know immediately if you have 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
· 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.
· 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
The Healing Process
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 closes and the callus is absorbed.
Treatment for Fractures
Doctors use casts, splints, pins, 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 hold the broken pieces of bone in proper
position with metal plates, pins, or screws while the bone is healing.
Recovery and Rehabilitation
Fractures take several weeks to several months to heal, depending on the
extent of the injury and how well you follow your doctor's advice. Pain
usually stops long before the fracture is solid enough to handle the
stresses of normal activity.
Even after your cast or brace is removed, you may need to continue
limiting your activity until the bone is solid enough to use in normal
Usually, by the time the bone is strong enough, the muscles will be weak
because they have not been used. Your ligaments may feel "stiff" from
not using them.
You will need a period of rehabilitation that involves exercises and
gradually increasing activity before those tissues will perform their
functions normally and the healing process is complete.