Fractures

Also known as a broken bone

A fracture is another name for a broken bone. A bone may be completely fractured or partly fractured in many different ways.

Bones are stiff, but they will bend slightly when under pressure from an external force. If this force is too strong, bones will break in the same way a plastic ruler snaps when it is bent that little bit too far.

undefinedCauses of fractures

Some common causes of fracture include:

  • Trauma. A fall, a car crash, or a tackle during a rugby game can all cause fractures.
  • Osteoporosis. This weakens bones and increases risk of fracture and broken bones.
  • Overuse. Repeated movements can wear on your muscles putting pressure on your bone. This can cause stress fractures, (these are more common in athletes).

Generally, a stronger force will cause a more severe fracture:

  • A weaker force (ie, a fall) may cause the bone to crack rather than break completely.
  • If the force is very strong (ie, a car crash) the bone may break or even shatter.

Symptoms

 The most common symptoms of fracture include:

  • Inflammation, bleeding, bruising and tenderness around the injured area.
  • Intense pain.
  • Not being able to move or use the injured area.
  • Tingling and numbness.

Diagnosis & treatment

If you think you may have a fracture, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Your doctor will carefully assess your general condition, as well as the seriousness of your injury. They will discuss how the injury happened, any symptoms and your medical background.

The most common way to diagnose a fracture is by x-ray; these show the type of break/fracture and its location within the bone.

The treatment you receive will depend on the severity of your fracture.

  • A minor-fracture may be held in place with a cast or splint.
  • A more-severe fracture may require surgery to insert pins, plates or screws to hold your bone in place.

Recovery

Fractures can take a long time to heal (many weeks or even months).

  • Recovery time depends on the type of fracture, how serious it is and how closely you follow your doctor's advice.
  • Pain will normally stop long before the fracture is healed. However, it can take a much longer time for your fracture to be ready to cope with normal activities.
  • Even after your sling, cast or brace has been removed you may need to continue restricting your movements until the bone has healed enough for normal activities.
  • While your fracture is healing, you will be losing muscle strength around the injured area. During the healing process, your doctor will give you special exercises to help you to keep/regain your normal flexibility, muscle strength and range of joint motion.

Read more about fracture recovery.

Prevention


Not all fractures can be prevented, but a healthy diet high in calcium and vitamin D combined with weight bearing exercises will help to keep your bones strong.

Learn more

Healthy bones at every age American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons  
Hip fracture NHS Choices, UK
Fracture (broken bone) Kidshealth, NZ

References

Fractures American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons  
Fractures Medline plus