A fracture is the medical term for a broken bone, hence the common misnomer of “broken bone.” A fracture occurs when there is a break in a bone and is often caused by a strong force, impact, pressure or stress. On average, a person is expected to experience two fractures in his or her lifetime. There are four main types of fractures:
Complete: A complete fracture is exactly what the name implies, in that the bone breaks into two or more pieces.
Incomplete: An incomplete fracture occurs when the bone is cracked but does not completely break into pieces.
Compound: In a compound fracture, the bone breaks through the skin and is exposed. This is also known as an open fracture.
Simple: When the bone breaks but does not compromise the skin, a simple fracture has taken place. There are many different types of simple fractures, and they are all determined by the actual break of the bone (i.e. hairline fractures, greenstick fractures, oblique fractures, etc.).
A bone will fracture when a force is applied to it that is stronger than the bone itself. A key factor in a bone’s susceptibility to fracturing is age. Both children and older people are prone to fractured bones as children’s bones are constantly growing and have not reached their full strength. Fractures are also common among the elderly because of the parallel of brittleness with old age, as well as their tendencies to develop bone diseases.
Location of the fracture is the determining factor in how serious the injury is. Pain is the number one symptom in a fracture, as the nerves in the muscle tissue surrounding the bone will react to the pressure. Fractures impede partial or all use of the affected bone and will reveal increased swelling and discoloration due to bruising. When bones fracture they bleed, which causes pressure on the surrounding tissues, leading to pain and discomfort. The surrounding muscles will also spasm as the body’s defense mechanism tries to fight the fracture.
Diagnosing a fracture can sometimes be complicated as it depends on location and how the fragments are aligned. A compound fracture is obviously much easier to diagnose, however a simple fracture like a hairline can be misleading to the naked eye. Treatment of fractures relies heavily on timeliness and age, as well as the victim’s medical history. The first step in treating a fractured bone is to determine which kind of fracture it is. The difference between a compound fracture and a simple fracture is visible, and an x-ray will be able to determine the shape of the fracture.
If professional medical assistance isn’t immediately available when the fracture occurs, a splint should be used to support the fracture, as movement can cause the bone to further damage the surrounding muscles and tissues. This damage can lead to infection, especially in a compound fracture.
The most important aspect of treatment is the body’s natural ability to heal. As aforementioned, age plays the ultimate determining factor in how long it takes for a fracture to heal. At any age, the process in which fractures are healed begins with alignment of the bone or by replacing the fragments in their initial position. Because the bone heals on its own, the fracture must be realigned in the best position for movement after the healing process is complete.
In more severe fractures, this will require the use of metal plates and screws to help the body hold the bone in place. After the bone is realigned a cast will be applied to ensure that it is held in place. On smaller bones, like fingers and toes, a cast may not be required and a splint will be used instead.
Children will heal faster than adults as their bodies are still growing. A fracture for a child could take only a few weeks to heal, whereas an older adult could take months.
Fractures are a common injury for people of all ages and the best way to prevent one from occurring is to practice safety and awareness.