How Do You Know if You Have a Fracture?

Reviewed on 12/15/2020

What is a fracture?

A fracture is a break in your bone or cartilage. Broken bones hurt. The pain may be so severe that you may be unable to move the affected area.
A fracture is a break in your bone or cartilage. Broken bones hurt. The pain may be so severe that you may be unable to move the affected area.

There are around 206 bones in the human body, and each plays a crucial role. They protect and preserve the shape of your soft tissues, serve as a framework for your muscles, and direct the pressure inside of you. Your skeletal system also produces and stores blood cells inside blood marro. 

Types of bones include: 

  • Compact bones
  • Spongy bones
  • Long bones
  • Short bones
  • Flat bones
  • Irregular bones

A fracture is a break in your bone or cartilage. Fractures are classified by their character, location, and whether the skin is damaged (open fracture) or intact (closed fracture). Trauma, overuse, and bone-weakening diseases are the usual culprits of broken bones. 

Bone fracture symptoms

The main symptom of a broken bone is pain. The pain may be so severe that you're unable to move the affected area. Other symptoms may include: 

  • Swelling or tenderness near the injury
  • Bruising
  • A deformity, such as a limb looking out of place or a bone sticking out through the skin 

Types of bone fractures

There are many different types of bones fractures. Some of the most common ones include: 

Stable fracture

This kind of fracture happens when the broken ends of the bone line up and are only slightly out of place. 

Open, compound fracture

Compound fractures occur when the skin is either pierced by the bone or by the cause of the fracture. You may or may not be able to see the bone in the wound. Because an open fracture can lead to osteomyelitis (a bone infection), an orthopedic surgeon may need to wash out this kind of fracture.

Transverse fracture  

Horizontal fracture lines across the bone characterize this type of fracture. 

Oblique fracture

This kind of fracture is in the form of an angled pattern. 

Comminuted fracture

With comminuted fractures, the bone shatters into at least three pieces.

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Causes of bone fractures

There are three causes of bone fractures: trauma, overuse, and disease

Trauma

Trauma refers to when an outside force exerts force on a bone. This includes injuries such as a bad fall, motor vehicle crash, or sports injury. When the force is stronger than a bone can take, a fracture results. 

Disease 

People with the disease called osteoporosis are at a greater risk of experiencing bone fractures, due to their weakened bones. Osteoporosis deprives bones of the necessary amount of calcium, making them brittle. 

Although disease isn't the actual cause of these types of fractures, it weakens bones to such an extent that a minor injury or even gravity alone can have enough force to cause a fracture. 

Often, people with osteoporosis don't exhibit any symptoms until a fracture occurs, which then leads to their diagnosis. Common fractures caused by this condition include vertebral compression fractures and hip fractures. 

Overuse 

Lastly, the cause of your fracture may be overuse. Repetitive motions can tire out your muscles and put more force on your bones, which makes them susceptible to a type of fracture called stress fractures. 

Diagnosing a fracture

To diagnose a bone fracture, your doctor will perform any of the following tests: 

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Treatments for a bone fracture

Fractures can take weeks or months to heal, depending on the severity of the injury and how well you stick to your treatment plan. Recovery may lead to the loss of strength in the muscles near your fracture. Therefore, even after treatment, you may need to do exercises to regain muscle strength, joint motion, and flexibility.

Treatment plans for a bone fracture may include any of the following: 

Cast immobilization

The most common treatment for a bone fracture is a plaster or fiberglass cast. Most bones can heal on their own as long as they are in the proper position and can stay in the same place for a long time. A cast keeps the broken ends in position while they heal. 

Functional brace or cast

Another kind of cast is called a functional cast (or brace), which allows limited movement of the joints near your fracture. 

External fixation

This procedure involves placing metal pins or screws into the broken bone above and below the fracture. The screws connect to a metal bar outside of your skin that ensures proper positioning while the fracture heals or until surgery can be performed. 

Open reduction and internal fixation

Similar to external fixation, this operation involves repositioning bone fragments and then putting screws or metal plates on the outer surface of the affected bone. Alternatively, the fragments can be held together with rods that are inserted through the bone marrow

Traction

Traction involves gently and steadily pulling the bones to align them. 
 

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References
Boston Children's Hospital: "Fractures | Diagnosis & Treatments."

Medical Terminology for Cancer: "6. The Skeletal System (Bones)."

OrthoInfo: "Fractures (Broken Bones)."

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