Fracture Care

A fracture is a broken bone. A bone may be completely fractured or partially fractured in any number of ways (crosswise, lengthwise, in multiple pieces). The diagnosing and the treating of broken bones (fractures) is one element of an orthopedic specialist’s work.

An orthopedic specialist can usually recognize most fractures by examining the injury and taking X-rays. While X-rays are a common way to diagnose broken bones, not all show a fracture. Other tests that may be performed, include computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a bone scan.

From cast immobilization and splinting to surgical intervention, appropriate treatment by an orthopedic specialist at is based on the severity of the injury as well as the patient’s expectations and needs.

Types of fractures:

Common types of fractures include:
  • Stable fracture. The broken ends of the bone line up and are barely out of place.
  • Open, compound fracture. The skin may be pierced by the bone or by a blow that breaks the skin at the time of the fracture. The bone may or may not be visible in the wound.
  • Transverse fracture. This type of fracture has a horizontal fracture line.
  • Oblique fracture. This type of fracture has an angled pattern.
  • Comminuted fracture. In this type of fracture, the bone shatters into three or more pieces.

Causes:

The most common causes of fractures are:
  • Trauma. A fall, a motor vehicle accident, or a tackle during a football game can all result in fractures.
  • Osteoporosis. This disorder weakens bones and makes them more likely to break.
  • Overuse. Repetitive motion can tire muscles and place more force on bone. This can result in stress fractures. Stress fractures are more common in athletes.

Symptoms:

Many fractures are very painful and may prevent you from moving the injured area. Other common symptoms include:
  • Swelling and tenderness around the injury
  • Bruising
  • Deformity — a limb may look “out of place” or a part of the bone may puncture through the skin

Treatment:

All forms of treatment of broken bones follow one basic rule: the broken pieces must be put back into position and prevented from moving out of place until they are healed. In many cases, the doctor will restore parts of a broken bone back to the original position. The technical term for this process is “reduction.”

Surgery is sometimes required to treat a fracture. The type of treatment required depends on the severity of the break, whether it is “open” or “closed,” and the specific bone involved. For example, a broken bone in the spine (vertebra) is treated differently from a broken leg bone or a broken hip.

Recovery:

Fractures take several weeks to several months to heal, depending on the extent of the injury and how well you follow your doctor’s advice. Pain usually stops long before the fracture is solid enough to handle the stresses of normal activity.

Even after your cast or brace is removed, you may need to continue limiting your movement until the bone is solid enough for normal activity.

During your recovery you will likely lose muscle strength in the injured area. Specific exercises will help you restore normal muscle strength, joint motion, and flexibility.