Bone Fractures

Posted October 8, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 6 min read

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.

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.

Causes of Bone fractures

Bone fractures are almost always caused by traumas. Anything that hits one of your bones with enough force can break it. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Car accidents.

  • Falls.

  • Sports injuries.

Symptoms of a Bone fracture

Symptoms of bone fractures include:

  • Pain.

  • Swelling.

  • Tenderness.

  • Inability to move a part of your body like you usually can.

  • Bruising or discoloration.

  • A deformity or bump that’s not usually on your body.

Diagnosis of Bone fracture

You’ll need at least one of a few imaging tests to take pictures of your fracture:

  • X-rays: An X-ray will confirm any fractures, and show how damaged your bones are.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Your provider might use an MRI to get a complete picture of the damage to your bones and the area around them. An MRI will show tissue like cartilage and ligaments around your bones too.

  • CT scan: A CT scan will give your provider or surgeon a more detailed picture of your bones and the surrounding tissue than an X-ray.

  • Bone scan: Healthcare providers use a bone scan to find fractures that don’t show up on an X-ray. This scan takes longer — usually two visits four hours apart — but it can help find some fractures.

Treatment of Bone fracture


  • If your fracture is mild and your bones did not move far out of place (if it’s non-displaced), you might only need a splint or cast.

  • Splinting usually lasts for three to five weeks.

  • If you need a cast, it will likely be for longer, typically six to eight weeks.

  • In both cases you’ll likely need follow up X-rays to make sure your bones are healing correctly.

Closed reduction

  • More severe breaks require a closed reduction to set (realign) your bones.

  • During this non-surgical procedure, your provider will physically push and pull your body on the outside to line up your broken bones inside you.

To prevent you from feeling pain during the procedure you’ll receive one of the following:

  • Local anesthetic to numb the area around your fracture.

  • Sedatives to relax your whole body.

  • General anesthesia to make you sleep through the procedure.

  • After the closed reduction, your provider will put you in a splint or cast.

Bone fracture surgery

Some bone fractures require surgery. Depending on which type of fracture you have and how badly your bones are damaged there are few techniques your surgeon might use.

Internal fixation

  • Your surgeon will realign (set) your bones to their correct position and then secure them in place so they can heal and grow back together.

  • They usually perform what’s called an internal fixation, which means your surgeon inserts pieces of metal into your bone to hold it in place while it heals.

  • You’ll need to limit how much you use that part of your body to make sure your bone can fully heal.

External fixation

  • You might need an external fixation.

  • Your surgeon will put screws in your bone on either side of the fracture inside your body then connect them to a brace or bracket around the bone outside your body.

  • This is usually a temporary way to stabilize your fracture and give it time to begin healing before you have an internal fixation.


  • If you fracture a joint (like your shoulder, elbow or knee) you might need an arthroplasty (joint replacement).

  • Your surgeon will remove the damaged joint and replace it with an artificial joint.

  • The artificial joint (prosthesis) can be metal, ceramic or heavy-duty plastic.

  • The new joint will look like your natural joint and move in a similar way.

Bone grafting

  • You might need bone grafting if your fracture is severely displaced or if your bone isn’t healing back together as well as it should.

  • Your surgeon will insert additional bone tissue to rejoin your fractured bone.

  • After that, they’ll usually perform an internal fixation to hold the pieces together while your bone regrows.

Bone grafts can come from a few sources:

  • Internally from somewhere else in your body usually the top of your hip bone.

  • An external donor.

  • An artificial replacement piece.

  • After your surgery, your bone will be immobilized.

  • You’ll need some combination of a splint, cast, brace or sling before you can start using it like you did before your fracture.

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