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Fracture – Definition

A fracture is a break in any bone in the body. Fractures are usually caused by trauma. This may be 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 (ie, 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.

Fracture – Causes

Fractures are caused by trauma to the bone. Trauma includes:

  • Falls
  • Twists
  • Blows
  • Collisions

The trauma is a physical force applied to the bone that the bone cannot withstand. Stronger bones can withstand more physical force than weaker bones.

Fracture – 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 (This can affect men and women.)
  • Certain congenital bone conditions (rare)
  • Taking glitazones (medication used to treat type 2 diabetes)
  • Accidents or violence

Fracture – Symptoms

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 (There 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 a severe trauma)

Fracture – Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured yourself, and 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

Fracture – Treatment

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 result of a 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.

Fracture – Prevention

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.

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