What is a bone fracture?

When you break a bone, healthcare providers call it a bone fracture. This break changes the shape of the bone. These breaks may happen straight across a bone or along its length. A fracture can split a bone in two or leave it in several pieces.

What types of bone fractures are there?

Healthcare providers can usually categorize a bone fracture based on its features. The categories include:

  • Closed or open fractures: If the injury doesn’t break open the skin, it’s called a closed fracture. If the skin does open, it’s called an open fracture or compound fracture.
  • Complete fractures: The break goes completely through the bone, separating it in two.
  • Displaced fractures: A gap forms where the bone breaks. Often, this injury requires surgery to fix.
  • Partial fractures: The break doesn’t go all the way through the bone.
  • Stress fractures: The bone gets a crack in it, which is sometimes tough to find with imaging.

A healthcare provider may add extra terms to describe partial, complete, open and closed fractures. These terms include:

  • Avulsion: A tendon or ligament pulls part of the bone off. Ligaments connect bones to other bones, while tendons anchor muscles to bones.
  • Comminuted: The bone shatters into several different pieces.
  • Compression: The bone gets crushed or flattened.
  • Impacted: Bones get driven together.
  • Oblique: The break goes diagonally across the bone.
  • Spiral: The fracture spirals around the bone.
  • Transverse: The break goes in a straight line across the bone.

Who gets bone fractures?

Anyone can break a bone, with certain situations making it more likely. Many people break bones from falls, car accidents and sports injuries. Medical conditions such as osteoporosis can also play a role. Osteoporosis causes at least one million fractures each year. Healthcare providers call these injuries fragility fractures.

What causes broken bones?

While bones are very strong, they can break. Most often, breaks happen because the bone runs into a stronger force (getting thrown forward in a car crash, say). Also, repetitive forces – like from running — can fracture a bone. Healthcare providers call these types of injuries stress fractures.

Another reason for fractures is osteoporosis, which weakens bones as you age. It’s a serious condition, so older adults should speak to a healthcare provider about their risk.

What symptoms do bone fractures have?

The symptoms of a fracture depend on which bone breaks. For example, you’ll likely know right away if you have a problem with your arm, leg or finger. If you’re not sure, consider these possible symptoms:

  • Difficulty using the limb.
  • Noticeable and unusual bump, bend or twist.
  • Severe pain.
  • Swelling.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/30/2020.

References

  • American Bone Health. Fracture Risk Factors. Accessed 11/29/20.
  • Amin S, et al. Trends in Fracture Incidence: A Population-Based Study Over 20 Years. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. 2014 Mar; 29 (3): 581-589. Accessed 11/29/20.
  • MedlinePlus. Fractures. Accessed 11/29/20.
  • NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Disease National Resource Center. Once Is Enough: A Guide to Preventing Future Fractures. Accessed 11/29/20.
  • NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Disease National Resource Center. Preventing Falls and Related Fractures. Accessed 11/29/20.
  • OrthoInfo. Fractures (Broken Bones). Accessed 11/29/20.
  • United States Bone and Joint Initiative. The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States (BMUS). Third ed. Rosemont, IL; 2014. Accessed 11/29/20.

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