What Is a Fracture?
In simplest terms, a fracture is a broken bone, but there are many different types of fractures. These include:
- Comminuted fractures: a fracture where the bone breaks into three or more pieces
- Oblique fractures: a fracture with the break on an angle
- Open or compound fractures: a fracture where the bone pierces the skin
- Stable fractures: a fracture in which the broken ends of the bone line up with one another
- Stress fractures: tiny cracks in a bone
- Transverse fractures: a fracture where the break is a across the long axis of a long, tubular bone such as the femur or humerus
Causes and Risk Factors
Most fractures are caused by injury or trauma. These can include sports injuries, falls or car accidents. Overuse can place more stress on the bone and increase the risk of fractures, especially stress fractures. Osteoporosis weakens bones and increases the risk of fractures, as well.
Symptoms of a fracture include:
- Bruising at the break site
- Deformity, with a bone or limb appearing to be out of place, or the bone poking through the skin in the case of a compound fracture
- Pain that is often extreme and prevents the use or movement of the injured area
- Swelling and tenderness at the break site
Fractures can be treated nonsurgically, but many require a surgical repair. Nonsurgical treatments include:
- A cast to immobilize the broken bone, to align (reduce) the broken pieces properly and allow them to heal together
- Traction, in which bones are aligned with a pulling mechanism
When a fracture is repaired surgically, the surgeon will open the skin, align the broken parts of the bone properly and insert rods, screws or plates to hold the broken parts together. Another option is to put in screws and rods that are attached to a frame outside the skin. This is called external fixation.
Recovery From a Fracture
Recovery can take between several weeks and several months. It is important to follow physician orders regarding movement, weight bearing and activity, since the fracture will usually cease being painful before it’s fully healed. Activity and movement before the fracture is healed can cause another fracture, or at least slow the healing process.
If the fractured area is immobilized, it is likely that muscle tone around the injury will be lost. In such cases, physical therapy can help build and strengthen muscle and restore range of motion.
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