Bone strength

Bones are strong and flexible and can withstand a lot of stress up to a point. A bone fracture is a total or partial break in the bone. If your bone is broken and you don't know it, it may heal on it's own, but it may not heal correctly.
Bones are strong and flexible and can withstand a lot of stress up to a point. A bone fracture is a total or partial break in the bone. If your bone is broken and you don't know it, it may heal on it's own, but it may not heal correctly.

The bones in your body are similar to the branches of a tree. They are strong and flexible up to a point. 

Your bones are strong enough to withstand a lot of stress. In fact, they are strong enough that sometimes we get used to it and don't think we've broken a bone when we actually have. Like a tree branch, when too much stress is put on one of your bones, the point where the force is the most powerful will fracture.  

Often, it's not clear if your bone is fractured or not. If you break a bone without knowing it, the bone will usually heal on its own, but not always correctly.

What is a bone fracture?

A bone fracture is a partial or total break of your bone. The break doesn’t have to be large. It can be less than the width of a hair or less than a quarter of an inch long. It can also completely shatter at the point of the break. 

There are many types of bone fractures and many different ways that bones can break. Generally, there are two classifications that fractures fall under:

  • Open fracture: Your skin is punctured by the broken bone.
  • Closed fracture: Your bones did not break through the skin.

Bone fractures can then be broken down into other types:

  • Incomplete fracture: Your bone is only partially broken.
  • Complete fracture: Your bone is completely broken.

Fractures are then classified according to their physical characteristics:

  • Comminuted fracture: These fractures happen when there are three or more bone fragments at your fracture site. They are sometimes described as a site where the bone is shattered.
  • Transverse fracture: This is when your bone completely breaks in a horizontal line.
  • Oblique fracture: Your bone’s break is complete and at an angle.
  • Linear fracture: A break that runs along your bone’s longer edge.
  • Spiral fracture: Your bone is twisted until it breaks.
  • Impacted fracture: Your bone breaks, and the pieces are forced into each other.
  • Avulsion fracture: A small piece of your bone breaks off, but the rest is still intact.

Bone fracture symptoms

In most cases, you will know when you break a bone. There is always an action accompanied by a force that causes a bone to break. 

Sometimes, the symptoms are not as severe as others. The severity of your symptoms usually depends on the type and classification of your fracture. Some of the symptoms you might experience are:

Bone fracture causes

Bone fractures are always caused by a force that has acted on the bone. This is true even if your bones have been weakened by a disease like osteoporosis. Health conditions themselves do not cause bone fractures. They increase a person’s risk of breaking a bone. 

The leading cause of fractures for all ages is a fall from a standing height. Standing height refers to a person standing or walking without being elevated. 

For example, you could be walking down your driveway, trip over a skateboard, and then break your arm when you land.

The second most leading cause of fractures is severe trauma, such as a car wreck, recreational accident, or contact sports injury. Falling from a height greater than your standing height is also considered severe trauma because the force of the impact is higher. 

Who can fracture a bone?

Anyone can trip, fall, or strike something with enough force to break a bone. 

Women are more likely to fracture a bone than men. Their bones are typically smaller and less dense than men’s.

Age is a factor, especially in women. Women over the age of 50 are more likely to break a bone than men of the same age. 

Smoking is proven to decrease bone density for men and women. It is also linked to accelerating osteoporosis in women. Osteoporosis is a condition where your bones begin to lose density. This makes them more prone to breaking because they lose strength. 

Contrary to popular belief, both women and men can get osteoporosis. It usually occurs much later for men than it does women. It can be accelerated by smoking, alcohol abuse, a lack of activity, or genetic conditions.

Other categories of people that are at risk for breaking bones are athletes and people who have physically active recreational hobbies. 

Also at risk are people that enjoy risk-taking pursuits such as sky-diving or rock climbing. People that perform physical work are at risk of bone fractures as well. 

Diagnosing a bone fracture

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose a bone fracture. 

If you know the signs of a bone fracture, you can be reasonably confident that you have one. When you see the doctor, they will ask you about your family and medical history and talk to you about the circumstances that led to the suspected fracture. 

After conducting a physical examination of the area, doctors use X-rays and bone scans to diagnose a broken bone. A bone scan is a test that uses radiologic imaging, typically when your fracture can’t be seen on an X-ray.  

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Treatments for a bone fracture

Doctors treat bone breaks based on your type of break and its symptoms. 

Medication

Depending on the type of break you have and treatment you receive, your doctor will prescribe medication to reduce the risk of infections, reduce inflammation, and help take the edge off of the pain

Ibuprofen, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and oxycodone are often used to treat pain and other symptoms of bone fractures.

Surgeries and procedures

Doctors have several options when selecting a bone fracture treatment. Treatment also depends on the type of break and how you fractured the bone. Doctors also must treat any soft tissue conditions that result from a bone fracture.

Fractures that are closed, stable, and set are usually put into a cast and immobilized. Sometimes, doctors place you in a brace or cast that still allows the joints surrounding your break to move. 

Doctors might need to mount plates or rods with screws onto the fracture to stabilize the bones while they heal. 

If you have a severe injury where soft tissue is also injured, doctors can use a technique known as external fixation. Here, hardware is mounted outside of your body until the tissue heals enough to tolerate a surgical procedure.

Complications of bone fracture

Untreated bone fractures can lead to severe infections or misalignment when they heal. 

Your fracture could heal and become a deformed bone, which can limit your physical activity and reduce your quality of life. If your bones don’t heal correctly, the joints they are attached to might wear out prematurely or become inflamed and cause more problems for you. 

Sometimes, bones don’t heal right, even if a doctor treats them. This is uncommon. It is more likely to happen to you if your fracture resulted from a severely traumatic injury. Doctors refer to this as a nonunion. It requires more advanced treatment to repair and heal the break.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/9/2021
References
SOURCES:

John Hopkins Medicine: "Bone Scan."

Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery: "The Assessment of Fracture Risk."

Journal of Bone and Mineral Research: "Trends in Fracture Incidence: A Population-Based Study Over 20 Years."

Mayo Clinic: "Fractures & Trauma."

National Institutes of Health: "Osteoporosis."

OrthoInfo: "Fractures (Broken Bones)."

OrthoInfo: "Nonunions."