Fractures (Broken Bones)



Broken Bones

A fracture is a broken bone. A bone/bones may be completely fractured or partially fractured in any number of ways including crosswise, lengthwise or in multiple pieces.

Bone is mostly made of collagen, a protein that is woven into a flexible framework. Bone also contains calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate, minerals that add strength and harden the framework. The combination of calcium and collagen gives the bone its strength and flexibility. Bones are rigid, but they do bend or “give” a little when an outside force is applied. However, if the force is too great, the bones will break.

The severity of a fracture generally depends on the force that caused the break. If the bone’s breaking point has been exceeded only slightly, then the bone may crack rather than break all the way through. If the force is extreme, such as in an automobile accident or a gunshot, the bone may shatter.

If the bone breaks in such a way that bone fragments stick out through the skin, or a wound penetrates down to the broken bone, the fracture is referred to as an “open” fracture. This type of fracture is serious because once the skin is broken, infection in both the wound and the bone can occur.

Common types of fractures include:

  • Stable fracture
    The broken ends of the bone line up and are barely out of place.
  • Open, compound fracture
    The skin may be pierced by the bone or by an impact that breaks the skin at the time of the fracture. The bone may or may not be visible within the wound.
  • Transverse fracture
    This type of fracture has a horizontal fracture line.
  • Oblique fracture
    This type of fracture has an angled pattern.
  • Comminuted fracture
     In this type of fracture, the bone shatters into three or more pieces.

Symptoms of a Broken Bone

Stress fractures present differently than a fracture caused by major impact. Stress fractures can ache and the pain can come and go during activity and rest. It is equally important to give them adequate time to heal so full function to the weight-bearing limb may be restored.

After an acute injury the signs and symptoms of a broken bone include:

  • Swelling or bruising over a bone
  • Obvious deformity of an arm or leg
  • Pain in the injured area that gets worse when the area is moved or pressure is applied
  • Loss of function in the injured area
  • In open fractures, bone protruding from the skin

Fractures are usually caused by a fall, blow or other traumatic event.

Osteoporosis, a disorder in which the bones thin and lose strength with age, causes 1.5 million fractures each year in the U.S. — specifically in the hip, wrist and spine.

Diagnosing a Facture

Doctors can usually recognize most fractures by examining the injury and taking X-rays.

Occasionally, an x-ray will not show a fracture. This is especially common with some wrist fractures, hip fractures and stress fractures. In these situations, your doctor may perform other tests, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a bone scan.

In some cases, after an initial injury, an x-ray can appear normal showing no signs of a fracture. In 10-14 days, a repeated x-ray can reveal a fracture. It is critical to see an orthopedist as soon as possible if you suspect you have a fracture. An accurate diagnosis and treatment plan can begin and you can prevent further injury.

Fracture Treatment

The goal of fracture treatment follows one basic rule: the broken pieces must be placed back into position and stabilized until they are healed. In some cases, the broken bone may need to be reduced back to the original position. The medical term for this process is “reduction.”

The ends of broken bones heal by “knitting” back together with new bone being formed around the edge of the broken parts.

Surgery is sometimes required to treat a fracture. The type of treatment required depends on the severity of the break, whether it is “open” or “closed,” and the specific bone/bones involved.  In general, treatment for stress fractures and other non-complex fractures, immobilizing the break for several weeks until healing has occurred will be adequate to establish new bone and rehabilitate the muscles through physical therapy.

Sideline Orthopedics uses a variety of treatments to heal fractures.


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