Broken Bone (Types of Bone Fractures) (cont.)

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What are the most common types of broken bones?

Fractures are usually described by their location, how the bones are aligned, whether there are associated complications with blood and nerve function, and whether the skin is intact at the injury site.

The terms and definitions used in medicine to describe fractures allow health care professionals to describe exactly where in the bone the fracture is located. For a reference point, the heart is considered the center of the body and the anatomic descriptions are based on their location in reference to the heart. When describing a location on or in the body, imagine standing straight up, looking forward with the arms slightly away from your side, and the palms turned forward.

Common anatomic terms used to describe fractures include the following:

  • Proximal (closer to the center of the body) and Distal (further from the center): the elbow is proximal to the wrist and the wrist is distal to the elbow.
  • Anterior (toward the front of the body) and Posterior (toward the back): The chest is anterior to the back and the back is posterior to the chest.
  • Medial (toward the middle of the body) and Lateral (to the outer edge of the body): The ears are lateral to the nose and the nose is medial to the ears.

By thinking of the body in the anatomic position, fractures can be described by their location in the bone and how the parts are aligned and related to each other. Fractures are either displaced or non-displaced, meaning that they are adequately aligned or not. Some physicians suggest that all fractures have some displacement and prefer the term "minimally displaced."

The description of the fracture also includes the direction it takes within the bones.

  • Transverse: the fracture travels across the bone
  • Oblique: the fracture occurs at an angle
  • Spiral: –the fracture spirals or extends down the length of the bone
  • Comminuted: the fracture has more than two parts, multiple fragments are present.

Special terms:

  • Greenstick: In children, there may not be enough calcium to solidify the bone and when force is applied, it tends to bow and not break completely through. The term comes from a similar situation when trying to break a young branch off a tree.
  • Torus: In an adult, when only one part of a bone buckles it is called a torus or incomplete fracture.
  • Open fracture: An open fracture describes the situation where the bone penetrates through the skin.
  • The skin is very important in protecting the inside of the body from infection. If the skin overlying a broken bone is damaged, whether it is cut, torn or scraped, there is potential for bacteria from the outside world to invade the broken bone and cause an infection.

Fractures are classified as open (if the skin is damaged) or closed (if the skin is intact). An open fracture may require an orthopedic surgeon to wash out the fracture site to prevent osteomyelitis (bone infection). Depending upon circumstances, the type of fracture, the amount of contamination to the skin and wound, and the person's condition, this procedure may take place in the operating room.

Bone Fractures Illustration - Fracture of Bone
Bone Fractures Illustration - Fracture of Bone

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014

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