Bone Fractures: Types, Symptoms & Treatment (2024)

What is a bone fracture?

A bone fracture is the medical definition for a broken bone.

Fractures are usually caused by traumas like falls, car accidents or sports injuries. But some medical conditions and repetitive forces (like running) can increase your risk for experiencing certain types of fractures.

If you break a bone, you might need surgery to repair it. Some people only need a splint, cast, brace or sling for their bone to heal. How long it takes to recover fully depends on which of your bones are fractured, where the fracture is and what caused it.

Bone fracture vs. break

Bone fractures and broken bones are the same injury and mean the same thing. You might see them used interchangeably. A fracture is the medical term for a broken bone, so your healthcare provider will probably refer to your broken bone as a certain type of fracture after they diagnose it.

Bone fracture vs. bone bruise

Bone fractures and bone bruises are both painful injuries caused by a strong force hitting your body — usually a fall, car accident or sports injury. The difference is how damaged your bone is.

Your bones are living tissue that can get bruised in lots of the same ways your skin can. It takes much more force to bruise a bone than it does your skin, but the injury is very similar. If something hits your bones with enough force, they can bleed without being broken. Blood trapped under the surface of your bone after an injury is a bone bruise.

A bone fracture happens when something hits your bone with enough force not only to damage it, but to break it in at least one place. Fractures are more serious injuries and can take much longer to heal than bone bruises.

If you’ve experienced a trauma and have pain on or near a bone, go to the emergency room or visit your provider as soon as possible. No matter which injury you have, it’s important to get your bone examined right away.

Bone fractures vs. sprains

Bone fractures and sprains are common sports injuries.

If you experience a bone fracture, you’ve broken one or more of your bones. You can’t sprain a bone. A sprain happens when one of your ligaments is stretched or torn.

It’s possible to experience a bone fracture and a ligament sprain during the same injury, especially if you damage a joint like your knee or elbow.

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What are the different types of bone fractures?

There are many different types of fractures. Your provider will diagnose a specific fracture type depending on a few criteria, including its:

  • Pattern: A fracture pattern is the medical term for the shape of a break or what it looks like.
  • Cause: Some fractures are classified by how they happen.
  • Body part: Where in your body your broke a bone.

Fractures diagnosed by pattern or shape

Some fractures are classified by their pattern. This can either be the direction a break goes (if it’s a straight light across your bone) or its shape (if it’s more than a single line break).

Fractures that have a single straight-line break include:

  • Oblique fractures.
  • Transverse fractures.
  • Longitudinal fractures (breaks that happen along the length of the bone).

Fracture patterns that don’t break your bone in a single straight line include:

  • Greenstick fractures.
  • Comminuted fractures.
  • Segmental fractures.
  • Spiral fractures.

Fractures diagnosed by cause

A few types of fractures are named or classified by what causes them. These include:

  • Stress fractures (sometimes referred to as hairline fractures).
  • Avulsion fractures.
  • Buckle fractures (sometimes referred to as torus or impacted fractures).

Fractures diagnosed by location

Lots of fractures are specific to where they happen in your body. In some cases, it’s possible to experience a location-based fracture that’s also one of the other types listed above. For example, someone who experiences a severe fall might have a comminuted tibia (shin bone) fracture.

Fractures that affect people’s chest, arms and upper body include:

  • Clavicle fractures (broken collarbones).
  • Shoulder fractures.
  • Humerus (upper arm bone) fractures.
  • Elbow fractures.
  • Rib fractures.
  • Compression fractures.
  • Facial fractures.

Some fractures that can affect your hands or wrists include:

  • Barton fractures.
  • Chauffeur fractures.
  • Colles fractures.
  • Smith fractures.
  • Scaphoid fractures.
  • Metacarpal fractures (breaking any of the bones in your hand that connect your wrist to your fingers).

Fractures that damage the bones in your lower body and legs include:

  • Pelvic fractures.
  • Acetabular fractures.
  • Hip fractures.
  • Femur fractures.
  • Patella fractures.
  • Growth plate fractures.
  • Tibia (your shin bone) and fibula (your calf bone) fractures.

Fractures that affect your feet and ankles are more likely to have complications like nonunion. They include:

  • Calcaneal stress fractures.
  • Fifth metatarsal fractures.
  • Jones fractures.
  • Lisfranc fractures.
  • Talus fractures.
  • Trimalleolar fractures.
  • Pilon fractures.

Open vs. closed fractures

Your provider will classify your fracture as either open or closed. If you have an open fracture, your bone breaks through your skin. Open fractures are sometimes referred to as compound fractures. Open fractures usually take longer to heal and have an increased risk of infections and other complications. Closed fractures are still serious, but your bone doesn’t push through your skin.

Displaced vs. non displaced fractures

Displaced or non-displaced are more words your provider will use to describe your fracture. A displaced fracture means the pieces of your bone moved so much that a gap formed around the fracture when your bone broke. Non-displaced fractures are still broken bones, but the pieces weren’t moved far enough during the break to be out of alignment. Displaced fractures are much more likely to require surgery to repair.

Who gets bone fractures?

Bone fractures can affect anyone. Because they’re usually caused by traumas like falls, car accidents or sports injuries, it’s hard to know when someone will break a bone.

You’re more likely to experience a fracture if your bones are weakened by osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis weakens bones, making them more susceptible to sudden and unexpected fractures. Many people don’t know they have osteoporosis until after it causes them to break a bone. There usually aren’t obvious symptoms.

People assigned female at birth and adults older than 50 have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Talk to your provider about a bone density screening that can catch osteoporosis before it causes a fracture.

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How common are bone fractures?

Bone fractures are a common injury. Millions of people break a bone every year.

Bone Fractures: Types, Symptoms & Treatment (2024)
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