A fracture is a broken bone that changes its shape. The break may occur straight across a bone or along its length. A bone fracture can break a bone in two or more pieces.
Bone fractures can be categorized in the following ways:
Closed or open fractures. An injury that doesn’t break open the skin is a closed fracture. A fracture that causes a tear in the skin is called an open fracture or a compound fracture.
Complete fractures. The bone is broken all the way through into two pieces.
Displaced fractures. A bone fracture creates a gap, typically requiring surgery.
Partial fractures. The bone isn’t broken all the way through.
Stress fractures. The fracture causes a crack in the bone that may be difficult to see with imaging.
Bone fractures can also have the following characteristics:
Bone fractures typically occur as a result of the bone coming into contact with a stronger force, such as getting thrown forward in a car accident. Stress fractures can occur as a result of repetitive forces, such as running.
Bone fractures in the arm, leg, or finger typically cause immediate and severe pain. Other symptoms may include difficulty using the limb, swelling, and an unusual bump, bend, or twist.
During an appointment, the healthcare provider will examine the patient’s injury and request one or more imaging tests. These tests may include:
X-ray. This type of scan will create a two-dimensional picture of the break.
Bone scan. This type of scan is done to identify fractures that don’t show up on an X-ray. This scan typically requires two visits four hours apart.
CT scan. This type of scan uses computers and X-rays to create detailed slices or cross-sections of the bone.
MRI scan. This type of scan uses strong magnetic fields to create highly detailed images. An MRI is often used to diagnose a stress fracture.
Bone fractures may be treated with a cast or splint. A cast wraps the break with hard protection, while a splint protects just one side. Both treatments keep the bone immobilized and straighten it. Over time, the bone grows back together and heals.
Fractures of smaller bones such as fingers and toes are typically treated with a splint.
Some patients may require traction, a treatment that uses pulleys and weights to stretch the muscles and tendons around the broken bone. Traction aligns the bone to promote healing.
Serious breaks may need surgery to insert stainless-steel screws, plates and fixators, or frames to hold the bone steady.