FractureEn Español (Spanish Version)
A fracture is a break in any bone in the body. Fractures are usually caused by trauma, such as falls, twists, blows, or collisions. There are different kinds of fracture:
- The bone may be fractured but stable (simple fracture).
- Bone fragments may be sticking through the skin (open).
Fractures may also be described as:
- Chip (avulsion fracture)—A small piece of bone is broken away from the main bone.
- Compression—The bone is compressed together (such as, vertebrae).
- Comminuted—The bone is in pieces.
- Greenstick—One side of the bone is broken and the other side is bent but not broken.
- Intra-articular—The joint is affected.
- Transverse—The bone is broken in a horizontal line that is perpendicular to the surface of the bone cortex.
- Oblique—The bone is broken in a line that is less than a 90° angle to the surface of the bone cortex.
- Spiral—The line of the fracture forms a spiral.
- Stress—A thin fracture line occurs due to overuse rather than a single traumatic incident.
The Bones of the Body
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Fractures are caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma includes:
Trauma is a physical force applied to the bone that the bone cannot withstand. Stronger bones can withstand more physical force than weaker bones.
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for a fracture include:
- Advancing age
- Decreased muscle mass
- Osteoporosis—decreased bone mass which weakens bones (can affect men and women)
- Certain congenital bone conditions (rare)
Taking glitazones (medication used to treat
type 2 diabetes)
- Accidents or violence
Symptoms of a fracture include:
- Pain, often severe (primary symptom)
- Instability of the area around the break
- Inability to use the limb or affected area normally (may be full or partial restriction in movement)
- Swelling or bruising caused by the bleeding from the bone and surrounding tissues
- Numbness caused by damage to a nearby nerve (rare)
- Fainting or even shock (rare–only in severe trauma)
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured yourself. The doctor will examine the injured area.
Tests may include:
- X-rays—to look for a break in the bone
- CT scan—uses computerized x-rays to make pictures of structures inside the body
- MRI scan—uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
- Bone scan—typically used to look for stress fractures
Putting the pieces of bone together (may require
- Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals itself
Devices that can hold a bone in place while it heals include:
- A cast (may be used with or without surgery)
- Metal pins across the bone with a frame holding them outside the bone (requires surgery)
- A metal plate with screws (requires surgery)
- Screws alone (requires surgery)
- A rod down the middle of the bone (requires surgery)
Healing time ranges from three weeks for a simple finger fracture to many months for a complicated fracture of a long bone. All fractures require rehabilitation exercises to regain muscle strength and joint motion.
- Delayed union—It takes longer than usual to heal, but does heal.
- Nonunion—The bone does not heal and needs some special treatment.
- Infection—This is more likely to happen after an open fracture or surgery.
- Nerve or artery damage—This usually occurs as a result of severe trauma.
- Compartment syndrome—Severe swelling in the spaces of the limbs that causes damage to body tissues.
- Late arthritis—This may happen if the surface of a joint is badly damaged.
If you are diagnosed with a fracture, follow your doctor's
You can reduce your chances of getting a fracture:
- Avoid putting yourself at risk for an accident or other trauma to the bone.
Eat a diet rich in
regularly to build and maintain strong bones.
regularly to build strong muscles and prevent falls.
- Patients with osteoporosis may benefit from bisphosphonate medications.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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Fractures: an overview. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available:
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Fractures in Adults.
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1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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Last Reviewed September 2012