• Fracture


    A fracture is a break in any bone in the body. Fractures are usually caused by trauma, such as falls, twists, blows, or collisions. There are different kinds of fracture:
    • The bone may be fractured but stable (simple fracture).
    • Bone fragments may be sticking through the skin (open).
    Fractures may also be described as:
    • Chip (avulsion fracture)—A small piece of bone is broken away from the main bone.
    • Compression—The bone is compressed together (such as, vertebrae).
    • Comminuted—The bone is in pieces.
    • Greenstick—One side of the bone is broken and the other side is bent but not broken.
    • Intra-articular—The joint is affected.
    • Transverse—The bone is broken in a horizontal line that is perpendicular to the surface of the bone cortex.
    • Oblique—The bone is broken in a line that is less than a 90° angle to the surface of the bone cortex.
    • Spiral—The line of the fracture forms a spiral.
    • Stress—A thin fracture line occurs due to overuse rather than a single traumatic incident.
    The Bones of the Body
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    Fractures are caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma includes:
    • Falls
    • Twists
    • Blows
    • Collisions
    Trauma is a physical force applied to the bone that the bone cannot withstand. Stronger bones can withstand more physical force than weaker bones.

    Risk Factors

    A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for a fracture include:
    • Advancing age
    • Postmenopause
    • Decreased muscle mass
    • Osteoporosis—decreased bone mass which weakens bones (can affect men and women)
    • Certain congenital bone conditions (rare)
    • Taking glitazones (medication used to treat type 2 diabetes)
    • Accidents or violence


    Symptoms of a fracture include:
    • Pain, often severe (primary symptom)
    • Instability of the area around the break
    • Inability to use the limb or affected area normally (may be full or partial restriction in movement)
    • Swelling or bruising caused by the bleeding from the bone and surrounding tissues
    • Numbness caused by damage to a nearby nerve (rare)
    • Fainting or even shock (rare–only in severe trauma)


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured yourself. The doctor will examine the injured area.
    Tests may include:
    • X-rays—to look for a break in the bone
    • CT scan—uses computerized x-rays to make pictures of structures inside the body
    • MRI scan—uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
    • Bone scan—typically used to look for stress fractures


    Treatment involves:
    • Putting the pieces of bone together (may require anesthesia and/or surgery)
    • Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals itself
    Devices that can hold a bone in place while it heals include:
    • A cast (may be used with or without surgery)
    • Metal pins across the bone with a frame holding them outside the bone (requires surgery)
    • A metal plate with screws (requires surgery)
    • Screws alone (requires surgery)
    • A rod down the middle of the bone (requires surgery)

    Healing and Rehabilitation

    Healing time ranges from three weeks for a simple finger fracture to many months for a complicated fracture of a long bone. All fractures require rehabilitation exercises to regain muscle strength and joint motion.

    Possible Complications

    • Delayed union—It takes longer than usual to heal, but does heal.
    • Nonunion—The bone does not heal and needs some special treatment.
    • Infection—This is more likely to happen after an open fracture or surgery.
    • Nerve or artery damage—This usually occurs as a result of severe trauma.
    • Compartment syndrome—Severe swelling in the spaces of the limbs that causes damage to body tissues.
    • Late arthritis—This may happen if the surface of a joint is badly damaged.
    If you are diagnosed with a fracture, follow your doctor's instructions.
    If you are diagnosed with a fracture, follow your doctor's instructions.


    You can reduce your chances of getting a fracture:
    • Avoid putting yourself at risk for an accident or other trauma to the bone.
    • Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
    • Do weight-bearing exercise regularly to build and maintain strong bones.
    • Do strengthening exercises regularly to build strong muscles and prevent falls.
    • Patients with osteoporosis may benefit from bisphosphonate medications.


    American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://www.aaos.org

    American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine http://www.sportsmed.org


    Canadian Orthopaedic Association http://www.coa-aco.org

    Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation http://www.canorth.org


    Browner BD. Skeletal Trauma:Basic Science, Management, and Reconstruction. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2003.

    Fractures: an overview. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00139. Updated March 2000. Accessed July 7, 2009.

    Gruntmanis U. Male osteoporosis: deadly, but ignored. Am J Med Sci. 2007;333(2):85-92.

    McCarus DC. Fracture prevention in postmenopausal osteoporosis: a review of treatment options. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2006;61(1):39-50.

    Rockwood CA, Green DP. Fractures in Adults. Vol 4. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins; 1994.

    1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Loke YK, Singh S, Furberg CD. Long-term use of thiazolidinediones and fractures in type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. CMAJ. 2009;180:32-39. Epub 2008 Dec 10.

    Revision Information

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.