• What Is A Bone Fracture?
Bones and Joint Conditions
|What Is A Bone Fracture?
A bone fracture is a crack or break in the bone. When most people think of a bone fracture they think of a cracked bone rather than a broken bone. Doctors and other medical staff however use the term fracture to refer to both a cracked and a broken bone. A fracture can occur in any bone in the body. There are several different ways a bone can fracture. For example, a simple fracture (also called closed fracture) is where there is a clean break in the bone and it does not tear through surrounding tissues. If the tissues are torn, it is called a compound fracture (or open fracture). Compound fractures are usually more serious and raise the risk of infection.
The symptoms will depend on the severity of the fracture - if it is partly cracked, or completely broken; which bone is affected and whether the skin is broken. Common symptoms and signs include:
Most fractures are caused by a bad fall or car accident. Healthy bones are remarkably tough and can withstand surprisingly powerful pressure and impacts. As we age however, our bones weaken and our risk of falling increases, making the risk of fractures greater. People with underlying conditions such as osteoporosis or tumors that weaken the bones are particularly prone to fractures. Every year osteoporosis causes 700,000 spine fractures and 250,000 wrist fractures in the United States. Sometimes the bones become so weak that no obvious trauma is needed to cause a fracture - for example, an abrupt halt or stepping off a curb may provide enough impact to fracture a weak hip bone. Any fracture that occurs as a result of normal activity is called a fragility fracture.
Different types of fractures include:
Your doctor will perform a physical examination looking for obvious signs of injury. An X-ray will probably also be ordered. Occasionally an MRI scan or CAT scan will be ordered to locate hidden fractures. Skull, ribcage and spine fractures have their own unique diagnosis and treatment process.
Bones naturally repair themselves after injury. Most treatments therefore focus on providing the injured bone with the best conditions for healing itself naturally. This may mean lining up the ends of broken bones (a process called reducing the fracture which is normally done by surgery under general anesthetic), and holding the bone in place while it heals (immobilization with splint of plaster cast for example for 2 to 8 weeks). If the bone is properly aligned and kept immobile for a suitable period of time, healing is usually straight forward. Sometimes the bone will need to be immobilized with screws (internal fixation, see hip fracture) until it heals. These screws may be removed later by further surgery, or in some cases they are left in permanently. The patient may begin working with a physiotherapist soon after surgery to help strengthen muscles. Some hospitals even have specialized geriatric-orthopedic rehabilitation wards for elderly people who sustained injuries. Note: not all fractures require surgery. Surgery is only performed if your doctor thinks the bone is not aligned and is likely to heal in the wrong position. In some instances however, bones that appear to be aligned normally and are splinted turn out to need to surgery when they are found to be unstable on further doctor visits.
Heals in wrong position: Known as malunion, the fracture heals in the wrong position.
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