Bone fractures, also known as broken bones, are extremely common injuries that millions of people face. Bone fractures can be caused by playing sports, falling, or experiencing an accident, but are also a common side effect of osteoporosis.
Bones can crack or break in several ways, and the treatment for bone fractures differs similarly, based on the extent and type of the fracture. Keep reading to find out more about the types of bone fractures and what they mean.
What Is a Bone Fracture?
A bone fracture is a break that changes the shape of the bone. These breaks can happen along the length of the bone or across it. A fracture can even cause a bone to shatter into several pieces.
Bones are strong and rigid, but they can still be susceptible to injury, especially in the case of an external event. When an outside force is too strong, it can cause the bone to bend until it eventually breaks. Alternatively, in the case of a disease like osteoporosis that causes the bone to break down, increased bone fragility can make it easy to get bone fractures even from light falls.
Bone fractures vary in severity—a light fracture can cause the bone to crack rather than break clean through. However, a severe accident can cause a much more extreme injury.
Main Categories of Bone Fractures
Bone fractures are characterized based on the features of that particular fracture. There are several types of bone fractures, but the most common ones are:
Open Fracture or Compound Fracture:
Open fractures are fractures where the broken bone breaks the skin and can be visible from the outside. Open fractures can also be deep wounds that expose the bone.
They are also called compound fractures, and are usually caused by high-impact trauma that forces the bone to pierce through the skin. It can occur in all extremities, but it usually happens in the lower legs. Although the severity of a compound fracture depends on the amount of damage to the bone and tissue, they still require urgent care due to the risk of infection and other complications in healing.
A closed fracture is a fracture that doesn’t break the skin. Since they don’t carry the risks of open fractures, they don’t carry the same urgency, but it may still be necessary to have surgery to fix the bone. Although the bone doesn’t penetrate the skin, there is still a chance of soft-tissue injury that can cause problems.
Closed fractures usually happen in the wrist, ankle, hip, and spine, and can be a result of a fall or an accident, as well as overuse. Fractures from overuse can be referred to as stress or hairline fractures, since they occur when a bone undergoes excessive use and therefore weakens.
Another form of closed fractures is pathological fractures—which is a result of bone weakening. Weakening of the bones can occur when other factors like infection, tumors, or diseases affect bone structure.
Partial fractures are also called incomplete fractures, since the crack does not go all the way through the bone, or all the way across the length or width of the bone. Oftentimes this fracture can be a hairline fracture. Some partial fractures can heal on their own—provided that the person refrains from using or putting stress on the affected area. However, it’s important to seek medical attention regardless to ensure a smooth recovery.
Unlike a partial fracture, a complete fracture is a result of a clean break through the bone where it separates into two or more pieces. They are also called simple fractures. Complete fractures can be of several types—transverse, spiral, oblique, and comminuted.
A stable fracture also involves a clean break through the bone, where the ends of the bone line up. Unlike a compound fracture where the bone breaks through the skin, a stable fracture involves bones that haven’t moved significantly out of place. Since the bones are more or less in place, stable fractures may not always require surgery.
Displaced fractures are when there is a gap between the broken ends of the bone. The bone may break into two or more fragments and then move out of alignment. In these cases, the bone will need to be realigned to start the healing process.
Types of Bone Fractures
While the above are the main categories of bone fractures, more types of fractures fall under these categories. Doctors will likely use these types to help further describe your injury. They include:
A transverse fracture occurs when the bone breaks at a 90-degree angle to the length of the bone. The breaks are usually in a straight line along the long axis of the bone and are caused by a large amount of force that gets applied perpendicular to the bone. Falls or automobile accidents are common causes of transverse fractures.
Also called torsion or twisting fractures, this type of fracture spirals around the bone and is usually caused by a twisting force being applied to the bone. Spiral fractures usually happen in long bones, such as the tibia, fibula, or femur in the leg, but they can also occur in long bones in the arms.
Since the bone is usually torn in half, spiral fractures are one of the more serious bone injuries. People who play sports, experience a physical attack, or get into an accident can experience spiral fractures.
A greenstick fracture is a partial fracture that happens when a bone bends and cracks instead of breaking. It is called a greenstick fracture since it looks similar to what happens when you break a green branch on a tree.
Greenstick fractures are common in children under the age of 10 since they have softer and more flexible bones.
Oblique fractures involve a break that is at a curve or angle to the bone. Similar to spiral fractures, it usually occurs in long bones where the break occurs diagonally across the length of the bone. They can be a result of a sharp blow from an external force such as an accident, a fall, or other trauma.
A comminuted fracture is when the bone splinters into more than two pieces, including bone fragments. Comminuted fractures require the bone to be shattered into pieces, so it is usually a result of high-impact trauma like serious vehicle accidents, falls from a height, or injuries from explosives.
A compression fracture is a spinal fracture that involves a crack or break in the vertebrae. It is called a compression fracture since it requires the bones to be crushed or flattened due to pressure. These fractures are usually a result of bones being weakened from diseases like osteoporosis and, therefore can be injured by lifting an object, a fall, or even coughing.
Segmental fractures are a type of fracture that involves a bone being fractured in two places, leaving a “floating” or isolated bone between the two breaks. This is a fracture usually experienced in the long bones of the leg and is caused by high impact and direct trauma.
Unlike a comminuted fracture that has multiple fracture lines, a segmental fracture has two distinct and complete fracture lines. Segmental fractures are also complex to heal since they include important soft tissue injuries and are at risk of complications.
Avulsion fractures occur in areas of the bone that are attached to a tendon or ligament. This fracture happens when the tendon or ligament pulls hard enough to pull off a fragment of the bone. It usually occurs in children, when the ligaments or tendons pull enough to cause a growth plate to fracture.
The treatment process for bone fractures begins with the doctor examining your injury and the extent of it. They may do this with a physical examination, X-Ray, MRI, or CT scan. The treatment options can include:
- Cast immobilization. This is the most common type of treatment and generally involves a fiberglass or plaster cast. Since most broken bones can heal on their own, the cast is applied after the bones have been realigned (if necessary).
- External fixation. External fixation is a procedure where the doctor places a stabilizing frame to hold the bones in position while they heal. The frame is made of a metal rod outside the skin that is held by metal pins or screws both above and below the fracture site.
- Internal fixation. In this procedure, the doctor first repositions the bones into the proper alignment and then attaches special screws or metal plates to the surface of the bone, or metal rods that go down the center of the bone.
Fractures can take anywhere between several weeks to months to heal, depending on the severity of the injury. It may also be necessary for the person to restore muscle strength through physical therapy after healing.
A bone fracture is something you should always get immediate help for—both to reduce pain and encourage better healing and recovery. At Mobility Bone & Joint Institute, we provide a wide range of services to help you live a better life. Contact us for more information!
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