A broken bone, or fracture, happens when excessive force
applied to your bone causes it to break or shatter. Some fractures break the
bone completely, while others just cause a crack in the bone. Fracture types
vary depending on the circumstances of the injury and the amount of force
applied to the bone.
What Causes Broken Bones?
Bones are very strong. Their design allows them to absorb pressure
if you fall or you’re in an accident. But your bones can only absorb so much
pressure before breaking. A broken bone commonly occurs for the following
- injury (accidental or intentional)
- falls from heights
- falls on ice or other unsafe surfaces
- overuse, particularly if you run or participate
Osteoporosis is also a common cause of broken bones. This
disease causes bones to weaken in older adults.
What Are the Types of Broken Bones?
- A simple
fracture is when the bone breaks into two pieces.
- An open
or compound fracture is when a piece of bone protrudes through your
skin or if the force of the injury breaks the skin.
- A closed
fracture is when the bone breaks, but the skin is intact.
- A spiral
fracture is when the break spirals around the bone. This can happen if
something twists the bone.
- A compression
fracture is when a bone is crushed, such as when a vertebrae in the
spinal column push together in an accident.
- A greenstick
fracture happens in children. It’s when a break occurs on one side of
the bone, and the other side bends in response to the pressure.
- A comminuted
fracture is when an injury causes a bone to shatter into at least
three bone fragments.
- A transverse
fracture is when the break occurs across the shorter part of your
bone, rather than down the length of the bone.
- An avulsion
fracture is when an injury causes the tendon or ligament attached to
the bone to pull off a piece of the bone.
- An impacted
fracture is when a force presses against both ends of the bone,
pushing the broken ends together.
- A stress
fracture is when overuse or repetitive motion causes a small crack in the
What Are the Symptoms of a Broken Bone?
If you have a broken bone, you may feel pain in the bone or
surrounding area. You may notice that the area is swollen. When the bone
breaks, you might hear a popping or snapping sound. If the broken bone is in
your arm or leg, the limb may bend at an unusual angle or look deformed. You
may notice your skin appears bruised or is bleeding. If you have a compound
fracture, part of the bone may protrude from the wound. It can be hard to move
a broken bone and you might have trouble walking if the bone in your leg is
What Are the Treatment Options for a Broken Bone?
The following first aid techniques can help stabilize a bone
until you can reach the hospital:
- Ice the injury and elevate the injured area to
- Gently clean the wound with soap and water to
help prevent bacteria from entering the wound.
- Cover the wound with a bandage.
If the broken bone is in your arm or leg, a sling or splint
will stop the injured area from moving and will keep the bone stable. You can
use a rolled-up magazine or newspaper as a homemade splint.
If you have a possible broken upper leg, spine, pelvis, or
hip, stay where you are until help arrives and don’t try to move the bone.
Attempting to move it could cause more damage to the injured area.
When you reach the hospital, you’ll get an X-ray to
determine if the bone is broken and to identify the type of fracture. The
doctor will align your bone correctly before stabilizing it or placing it in a
cast. If the bones aren’t aligned correctly, the injury won’t heal properly. If
you have a broken bone that can’t be put in a cast, such as a broken
collarbone, your doctor may recommend that you keep the bone still by using a
sling or special bandage.
Many fractures and compound fractures require surgery.
During surgery, your doctor might put pins, plates, screws, or wire cables in
the bone to hold it together while it heals.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Healing can take weeks or months, depending on the type and
severity of the break. Fractures in adults usually take a minimum of six weeks
to heal, while a fracture in a child may heal faster. After the bone heals, you
may need to perform exercises to strengthen muscles that you didn’t use while
your bone was in a cast. Your doctor may suggest some exercises you can do at
home. You may need to work with a physical therapist to strengthen your muscles
and regain flexibility in your joints.