Treating Bone Fractures

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Understanding Bone Fractures

A fracture, or broken bone, occurs when an outside force applied to the bone is too great for the bone to bear. The severity of a bone fracture depends upon the strength and direction of the force, as well as the bone health of the person involved.

Age often determines the risk and extent of a fracture. It is fairly common for children to get broken bones; however, they usually are slight fractures and heal quickly. Over time, bones become more brittle and fragile which makes the elderly at risk for more complicated fractures.

There are many types of fractures, which first can be identified by the way in which the bone breaks. The following are the main categories of fractures:

Displaced fracture​: the bone breaks into two or more parts and moves so that the two ends are no longer aligned.

Non-displaced fracture​: the bone cracks either part or all of the way through, but stays in place.

Open fracture: ​the bone breaks through the skin; it may not be visible if it moves back into the wound.

Closed fracture:​ is when the bone breaks but does not puncture the skin.

Common types of fractures include:

  • Transverse fractures​ have a horizontal fracture line.
  • Linear fractures​ run parallel to the bone itself.
  • Oblique fractures​ have an angled pattern​.
  • Spiral fractures​ occur when the bone has been twisted apart.
  • Greenstick fractures​ are very small cracks in the bone and are more common in children.
  • Comminuted fracture​s occur when the bone is shattered in three or more pieces.
  • Symptoms

    Initially, those with a fracture will have problems moving the affected limb and will feel intense pain. Symptoms of a fracture also include bruising, swelling, and tenderness. The limb may look out of place, feel numb, or tingle.


    A bone can fracture due to an accident, fall, or sports injury. Sometimes a bone may have a stress fracture due to overuse. The severity of the fracture depends upon the direction and the trauma to the bone. For instance, the impact of a car accident may cause more injury than slipping and falling. The condition of the bone will also determine the extent of damage. Patients with low bone density or osteoporosis, which causes the bones to weaken, may be prone to fractures. Individuals with these conditions can experience a serious fracture, even if they experience minor trauma.


    Your doctor will examine the affected area and check for bruising, swelling, tenderness, and deformity. They may also test your range of motion. The doctor will ask how the injury occurred and the extent and location of the pain. The most common way to evaluate a fracture is with x-rays, which can show a clear view of the type of fracture and where it is located. ​Doctors may also use CT scans (computed tomography) and MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging) to confirm a diagnosis.


    Without treatment, a broken bone will heal by itself; however, the purpose of medical treatment is to align the pieces of bone so they heal ​correctly​. ​When a broken bone is treated, the broken pieces are put back into position and prevented from moving out of place until they are healed; this process is called ​reduction.

    Depending on where the fracture is and its severity, treatment may include:

  • Splints​ – used to prevent the broken limb from moving.
  • Braces​ – allows “controlled” movement of joints.
  • Plaster or fiberglass cast​ – the most common type of fracture treatment; a cast keeps the broken bones in a fixed position while they heal.
  • Traction ​–used to align a bone by a slow, gentle pulling action ​using ropes, pulleys, and weights.
  • Surgery​- used to insert metal rods or plates to hold the bone pieces together.
  • Recovery

    Fractures may take a few weeks to several months to heal, depending on the type and location of the fracture. Pain is usually treated with medication initially and lessens over time. ​The healing process begins with blood clots that form on the broken ends of the bone. The bone grows together with a combination of fibrous cells and cartilage. This temporary bone (callus) is weak and can break easily until it is strengthened with real bone. ​After your cast or brace is removed, you may need to continue to limit movement in order to maximize healing. ​Follow your doctor’s advice, but general suggestions include:

  • Rest the injured limb.
  • Avoid any lifting until the fracture has healed.
  • See your doctor immediately if you have swelling, blueness, loss of movement, pins and needles, numbness, or increased pain.
  • During your recovery you are likely to lose muscle strength in the injured limb. Your doctor may recommend a rehabilitation program to restore strength, motion, and flexibility.

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