What is a broken bone or bone fracture?
A fracture is a bone that has broken due to excessive force or pressure. Most people will experience a broken bone at least once, but children and the elderly are more likely to experience a fracture. There are seven different types of fractures, depending on how the bone has broken. They include:
- Open fracture (compound fracture) – where the bone breaks through the skin
- Closed fracture – where the bone breaks in two, but does not break the skin
- Non-displaced fracture – the bone breaks in only one place and stays in alignment
- Displaced fracture – when the bone breaks in many places and is misaligned
- Comminuted fracture – when a bone is broken into many fragments
- Greenstick fracture – seen mostly in young children, this occurs when a bone is fractured on one side, but not through to the other (like when you bend a green stick that breaks on one side, but not clean through)
- Pathologic fracture – this fracture is a result of bones weakened due to disease
What causes bone fractures?
Bone fractures are most often caused by severe injury or blunt force trauma. This may be a high-energy injury, such as with sports, a car wreck, or a fall. Pathologic fractures are different. Because the bones have been weakened by disease, these fractures happen in the course of everyday life by activities that would not, under normal circumstances, cause a bone fracture.
Symptoms of a broken bone?
Many times a broken bone is already suspected, due to the severe pain and the type of injury that occurred. If the fracture is open/compound, it will be obvious that there is a broken bone. Symptoms of a break will vary with the bone broken, however common symptoms of a fracture include:
- Increase in pain with movement
- Bruising – sometimes severe
- Inability to move the affected body part or inability to walk
Note that young children who lack the ability to understand or communicate about a broken bone may stop using the particular body part, stop walking, or experience unexplained or uncontrollable crying.
Fractures in Children
As mentioned above, young children often experience “greenstick” fractures, where the bone does not break fully. In children, fractures are most common in the arms – from the wrist up to the bone in the upper arm (humerus). Symptoms of fractures in children are the same as in adults, though the treatment may vary based on the severity and location of the break. Children tend to heal much faster than adults, and even teens.
Do I need to go to the ER?
Bone fractures are complicated injuries that are considered an emergency and require immediate medical care. Open/compound fractures, in particular, need to be seen immediately due to the high risk of infection, especially to the bone. Surgery is often required for compound fractures and comminuted fractures. Please visit the ER immediately if:
- your fingers or toes are going numb or turning blue,
- the person is unresponsive or not breathing,
- the fracture occurred during a traumatic event such as a car wreck,
- the neck, head, or spine may have a fracture,
- the fracture has broken the skin, or
- there is heavy bleeding.
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