A fracture is a broken bone and when a bone is fractured, it is broken. A bone may be completely fractured or partially fractured in many different ways. It could break cross-wise, length-wise, or in the middle.
What causes a fracture?
Fractures happen from a variety of things and in many ways. The three most common causes of fractures include:
Trauma – Injury from trauma accounts for most fractures. This involves a fall, a motor vehicle accident, or an injury during a sporting event.
Osteoporosis – This condition can contribute to fractures. Osteoporosis is a bone disease that results in thinning of the bone. Bones that are affected by osteoporosis become fragile and break easily.
Overuse – This sometimes results in stress fractures, breaks that are common among athletes.
How are fractures diagnosed?
Most people know immediately when they have a bone broken. You may hear a cracking or snapping sound. The area around the fracture will be tender, swollen, and painful. Sometimes, the limb involved may be deformed or a part of the bone could puncture through the skin. Our orthopedic specialists usually use an X-ray to verify the diagnosis and evaluate the extent of the injury. Stress fractures can be particularly difficult to diagnose because they do not always immediately appear on an X-ray.
What are the different types of fractures?
There are several different types of fractures. There is the closed or simple fracture where the bone is broken but the skin is not torn or punctured. Another type of fracture is the open or compound fracture. With this injury the skin may be pierced by the bone or trauma that will break the skin at the time of the fracture. A transverse fracture is a break at right angles to the long axis of the bone. When a fracture occurs on one side of the bone and causes it to bend on the other side, this is called a greenstick fracture. Finally, a comminuted fracture is a break that results in three or more bone fragments.
How does a fracture heal?
As soon as a fracture occurs, the body starts to protect the injured area by forming a protective blood clot and some callus or fibrous tissue around the injury. New “threads” of bone cells begin to grow along both sides of the fracture line, as well. These threads grow toward each other and as the fracture closes, the callus is absorbed.
What is the treatment for a fracture?
Our orthopedic specialists treat fractures of the hip, the knee, the elbow, the wrist, and the long bones of the arms and legs. The doctors use casts, splints, pins, plates, and other devices to hold a fracture in the correct position while the bone heals. External fixation methods involve plaster or fiberglass casting, cast braces, splints, and other devices. Internal fixation is when the broken pieces of bone must be held in proper position with metal plates, pins, or screws while the bone heals.
What is involved in recovery and rehabilitation?
Fractures can take anywhere from a couple of weeks up to several months to heal. This will all depend on the extent of the trauma and injury, how well you follow your orthopedic surgeon’s advice, and how strong your bones are to begin with. The pain usually stops early on while the fracture is still healing. Even after your cast or brace comes off, you still will have to limit your activity and follow doctor’s orders.
By the time your bone is strong enough to get back to normal activity, your muscles will be weak from no use. The ligaments around the fracture area may feel stiff from not using them also. This is where the orthopedic specialist may feel the need to order physical therapy for a period of rehabilitation. This will involve exercises and gradual increase of activity while the muscles and ligaments regain strength and function.