A purple and blue logo for the health medical care and research institute.

What is a fracture? Types, Causes, and Symptoms

  • Home / What is a fracture? Types, Causes, and Symptoms
A man with leg braces playing soccer in his living room.

What is a fracture?

A bone fracture, commonly called a broken bone, is a medical condition in which a bone in the body is cracked or broken. This can occur due to various causes, such as accidents, falls, sports injuries, or underlying medical conditions that weaken the bones. Bone fractures can range in severity from a small, hairline crack to a complete break where the bone is separated into two or more pieces.

Types of Fractures

Fractures come in various forms, each with unique characteristics and treatment approaches. Understanding the type of fracture you or a loved one has is crucial for proper care and recovery. Here are some common types:

Closed Fracture: In a closed fracture, the bone breaks without puncturing the skin. This type is less infection-prone and typically heals well with proper treatment.

Open Fracture: Also known as a compound fracture, this occurs when the broken bone pierces through the skin. Open fractures demand immediate medical attention due to the risk of infection.

Greenstick Fracture: Often seen in children, a greenstick fracture involves an incomplete break on one side of the bone, similar to breaking a green branch.

Comminuted Fracture: In comminuted fractures, the bone shatters into multiple fragments, making treatment and healing more complex.

Stress Fracture: Stress fractures typically result from repetitive stress on the bone, common in athletes. These may not be immediately visible on X-rays but can be painful.

Pathological Fracture: Occurring in weakened bones due to diseases like osteoporosis or cancer, pathological fractures may happen with minimal force.

Causes of a Fracture:

Trauma: Most fractures occur due to some form of trauma, such as a fall, sports injury, car accident, or a direct blow to the bone. These traumatic events can exert force on the bone that exceeds its strength, leading to a fracture.gth, leading to a fracture.

Overuse or Repetitive Stress: Some fractures, known as stress fractures, result from repetitive stress or overuse of a particular bone, often seen in athletes and individuals engaged in high-impact activities.

Osteoporosis: Weakening of the bones due to conditions like osteoporosis can make them more susceptible to fractures, especially in the elderly.

Pathological Conditions: Diseases like cancer and bone infections can weaken the bone structure, increasing the risk of fractures, even with minimal force.

Symptoms of a Fracture:

Pain: Fractures typically cause intense localized pain at the site of the injury. The pain may be sharp, throbbing, or constant and can worsen with movement or pressure on the affected area.

Swelling and Bruising: Swelling often accompanies a fracture due to the body’s response to injury. Additionally, bruising or discoloration may develop around the fracture site.

Deformity: In some cases, a fractured bone may cause an obvious deformity or misalignment of the affected limb or joint. The bone may appear angulated or displaced.

Limited Range of Motion: Fractures can restrict movement in the injured area. Attempting to move the limb or joint may be painful or impossible. Crepitus: Fractures can produce a grating or grinding sensation called crepitus when the broken bone ends rub against each other.

Numbness or Tingling: Depending on the location of the fracture, there may be numbness or tingling in the surrounding area due to nerve compression or damage.

Open Wound: In cases of open fractures, where the bone has pierced through the skin, there will be an open wound at the fracture site, potentially exposing the bone. This increases the risk of infection.

Shock: In severe cases or with multiple fractures, an individual may go into shock. Signs of shock include rapid breathing, rapid pulse, pale skin, and confusion.

It’s important to note that the symptoms of a fracture can vary depending on the type and location of the fracture. When a fracture is suspected, seeking prompt medical attention is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. In the meantime, providing first aid to immobilize the injured area and reduce swelling can help alleviate pain and prevent further damage.

First Aid

When dealing with a fracture, quick and proper first aid is crucial. Begin by ensuring the injured person stays calm, and immediately call for professional medical help. Immobilize the injured area to prevent worsening of the injury, and if feasible, elevate it to reduce swelling. Applying a cold compress can provide relief, and you may offer over-the-counter pain relief with caution. It’s vital not to attempt realigning the bone yourself. Support the injured area with padding, monitor vital signs, and keep the individual warm to prevent shock. Remember, first aid is initial assistance; seeking prompt medical care is essential for proper fracture treatment and recovery.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seeking prompt medical attention is crucial when you suspect a fracture. Here are situations when you should go to a doctor or seek emergency medical care for a suspected fracture:

Severe Pain: If you or someone else experiences intense, persistent pain at or near the injury site, this is a strong indication of a possible fracture. Do not ignore severe pain.

Deformity or Misalignment: If the injured area looks deformed, angulated, or out of alignment compared to the opposite side of the body (e.g., a bent arm or a crooked finger), it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention.

Inability to Move or Use the Limb: If you cannot move or bear weight on the injured limb or joint, or if there is a significant loss of function, this suggests a possible fracture and requires medical evaluation.

Open Wound or Bone Exposure: If the skin is broken at the site of the injury, and the bone is visible, it is an open fracture. Open fractures have a higher risk of infection and require immediate medical attention to clean and close the wound.

Numbness or Tingling: Numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in the affected area can indicate nerve damage, which can accompany fractures. This is a sign that you should see a doctor.

Crunching or Grinding Sensation: If you feel or hear a grinding or crunching sensation when you move the injured area (crepitus), it may be due to the broken bone ends rubbing against each other, indicating a fracture.

Swelling and Bruising: While swelling and bruising are common with fractures, especially after trauma, they should not be underestimated. If they are severe or rapidly increasing, medical evaluation is needed.

Shock Symptoms: Signs of shock, such as rapid breathing, rapid pulse, pale or clammy skin, and confusion, can occur with severe fractures or multiple fractures. Seek immediate medical help if someone goes into shock.

Age and Underlying Conditions: For older individuals or those with underlying medical conditions like osteoporosis, even minor trauma can lead to fractures. They need to be evaluated by a doctor.

In all of these situations, it is better to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare professional can provide a proper diagnosis, assess the severity of the fracture, and recommend the most appropriate treatment, which may involve X-rays, casting, splinting, or surgery. Timely medical care is essential for ensuring the best possible outcome in fracture cases.