Fractures: types and risk factors

Most fractures happen when a bone is impacted by more force or pressure than it can support. This force usually occurs suddenly or is very intense. The strength of the force also determines the severity of the fracture. The bone can fracture crosswise, lengthwise, in several places, or into many pieces. It can also range from a thin crack to a complete break.

A fracture may occur at the same time as other injuries, such as sprains, strains, or dislocations. However, a fracture may also be the result of some medical conditions which weaken the bones; For example, osteoporosis, some cancers, or osteogenesis imperfecta (also known as brittle bone diseases). Doctors call this a pathological fracture.

Who is Most at Risk of Fracture?

Falls and accidents cause most bone fractures. Other possible causes include direct strikes to the body, injuries from sports and gun shot wounds.

Although anyone can experience a fracture, you’re more likely to develop one if you:

  • have brittle bones, or low bone density.
  • are elderly.
  • are a child.
  • have osteoporosis.
  • have endocrine or intestinal disorders.
  • are taking corticosteroids.
  • are physically inactive.
  • drink alcohol.
  • smoke.

The Different Types of Fractures

Doctors usually diagnose fractures with the help of imaging studies. The doctor might use any of the following to accurately determine the type of fracture you have:

  • X-ray: X-ray imaging produces a picture of internal tissues, bones, and organs. Doctors diagnose most fractures using X-rays.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT, or CAT scan): a three-dimensional imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce slices, (cross-sectional images), horizontally and vertically, of the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI is a procedure that produces a more detailed image. It is usually used for smaller fractures or stress fractures.
  • Bone scan: An agent is injected that binds in the area of the fracture where bone turnover is higher than normal.

Below are 16 different types of fracture an individual may suffer from:

  1. Avulsion fracture – a muscle or ligament pulls on the bone, fracturing it.
  2. Comminuted fracture – the bone is shattered into many pieces.
  3. Compression (crush) fracture – generally occurs in the spongy bone in the spine. For example, the front portion of a vertebra in the spine may collapse due to osteoporosis.
  4. Fracture dislocation – a joint becomes dislocated, and one of the bones of the joint has a fracture.
  5. Greenstick fracture – the bone partly fractures on one side, but does not break completely because the rest of the bone can bend. This is more common among children, whose bones are softer and more elastic.
  6. Hairline fracture – a partial fracture of the bone. Sometimes this type of fracture is harder to detect with routine xrays.
  7. Impacted fracture – when the bone is fractured, one fragment of bone goes into another.
  8. Intraarticular fracture – where the break extends into the surface of a joint
  9. Longitudinal fracture – the break is along the length of the bone.
  10. Oblique fracture – a fracture that is diagonal to a bone’s long axis.
  11. Pathological fracture – when an underlying disease or condition has already weakened the bone,
  12. resulting in a fracture (bone fracture caused by an underlying disease/condition that weakened the bone).
  13. Spiral fracture – a fracture where at least one part of the bone has been twisted.
  14. Stress fracture – more common among athletes. A bone breaks because of repeated stresses and strains.
  15. Torus (buckle) fracture – bone deforms but does not crack. More common in children. It is painful but stable.
  16. Transverse fracture – a straight break right across a bone.

Signs and Symptoms of a Fracture

The signs and symptoms of a fracture may include:

  • Warmth, bruising, or redness in the injured area.
  • A pop or snap felt or heard at the time of the injury.
  • Pain that increases with movement or when pressure is applied to the area.
  • Obvious deformity in the injured area.
  • Difficulty using or moving the injured area in a normal manner.
  • Swelling and bruising in the injured area.
  • Limited movement in the injured area.
  • A bend or movement in a bone where there is no joint (for example, a bend in the arm between the elbow and wrist).
  • Bone poking through the skin or visible in the wound.

You may not be able to prevent all fractures. But you can work to keep your bones strong so they’ll be less susceptible to damage. In order to maintain your bone strength, consume a nutritious diet, including foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. It’s also important to exercise regularly. Weight-bearing exercises are particularly helpful for building and maintaining bone strength. Examples include walking, hiking, running, dancing, and weight training.

Treatment of Fractures

An open fracture, in which the bone exits and is visible through the skin, or a deep wound that exposes the bone through the skin, is considered an emergency. Therefore, seek immediate medical attention for this type of fracture.

The goal of treatment is to control the pain, promote healing, prevent complications, and restore normal use of the fractured area. Although bone healing is a natural process, treatment revolves around giving the bone optimum conditions to heal itself Treatment options may include:

  • Splint/cast (immobilizes the injured area to promote bone alignment and healing to protect the injured area from motion or use).
  • Medication (to control pain).
  • Traction.
  • Surgery.

More Reading

  1. Exercise for your bone health.
  2. Cleaveland Clinic – Fractures.
  3. Fractures (broken bones).
  4. American Family Physician – Diagnosis and management of osteomyelitis.

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