Orthopedic Specialists

Bone Fracture Basics

October 23, 2018

The average person will experience two fractures in their lifetime.  A fracture is the medical term for a broken bone.   They occur when the physical force exerted on the bone is stronger than the bone itself.  Fractures are usually described by the location, how the bones are aligned, whether there are associated complications with blood and/or nerve function, and whether the skin is intact at the injury site.

The most common causes of fractures are:

  • Trauma - such as a fall, sports activity such as tackling in football, or a motor vehicle accident.
  • Osteoporosis - which weakens the bone and makes them more likely to break.
  • Overuse - repetitive motion can fatigue the muscle which places more force on the bone.  Stress fractures are common in athletes. 

The main categories of fractures are open, closed, displaced, and non-displaced.  Closed fractures are those where there is no puncture or open wound to the skin.  Open fractures are when the broken bone(s) pierces through the skin.  A non-displaced or minimally displaced fracture is when the bone cracks part or all the way through, but maintains it proper alignment.  A displaced fracture is when the bone snaps in two or more pieces and the ends are not lined up straight. 

Common anatomic terms used to describe fractures include:

  • Proximal – closer to the center of the body
  • Distal - further from the center
  • Anterior – toward the front of the body
  • Posterior – toward the back
  • Medial - toward the middle of the body
  • Lateral - to the outer edge of the body

The direction the fracture takes within the bone is described as:

  • Transverse - the fracture travels across the bone
  • Oblique - the fracture occurs at an angle
  • Spiral - the fracture spirals or extends down the length of the bone
  • Comminuted - the fracture has more than two parts, multiple fragments are present

Symptoms of a fractured bone can include swelling and tenderness around the injury, bruising, and possible deformity – a limb may look “out of place” or a part of the bone may puncture through the skin.

These are the basics of a bone fracture.  Now you will understand the fracture “lingo” if you or someone you know sustains a fracture.   We are happy to evaluate and treat any bone or joint problems you may have – no referral necessary. 

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