What is a Broken Bone?

A broken bone, or fracture, happens when excessive force applied to your bone causes it to break or shatter. Some fractures break the bone completely, while others just cause a crack in the bone. Fracture types vary depending on the circumstances of your injury and the amount of force applied to the bone.

What Causes Broken Bones?

Bones are very strong and are designed to absorb a shock if you fall or are in an accident, but your bones can only absorb so much pressure before breaking. A broken bone commonly occurs for one of the following reasons:

  • injury from a car accident or athletic event
  • intentional injury, if another person strikes or pushes you
  • child abuse
  • falls from heights or falls on ice or other unsafe surfaces
  • overuse, particularly if you run or participate in sports
  • osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to weaken in older adults

What are the Types of Broken Bones?

  • A simple fracture happens when the bone is broken into two pieces.
  • An open or compound fracture happens when a piece of bone protrudes through your skin or if the force of the injury breaks the skin.
  • A closed fracture happens when the bone is broken, but the skin is intact.
  • A spiral fracture happens when the break spirals around the bone, which can happen if the bone is twisted.
  • A compression fracture happens when vertebrae in the spinal column are pushed together in an accident or because of osteoporosis.
  • A greenstick fracture happens in children when a break occurs on one side of the bone and the other side of the bone bends in response to the pressure.
  • A comminuted fracture happens when an injury causes a bone to shatter into at least three bone fragments.
  • A transverse fracture happens when the break occurs across the shorter part of your bone, rather than down the length of the bone.
  • An avulsion fracture happens when an injury causes the tendon or ligament attached to the bone to pull off a piece of the bone.
  • An impacted fracture happens when force presses against both ends of the bone, pushing the broken ends together.
  • A stress fracture happens when overuse or repetitive motion causes a small crack in your bone.

What are the Symptoms of a Broken Bone?

If you have a broken bone, you may feel pain in the bone or surrounding area and may notice that the area is swollen. When the bone breaks, you might hear a popping or snapping sound. If the broken bone is in your arm or leg, the limb may bend at an unusual angle or look deformed. You may notice your skin is bruised or bleeding. If you have a compound fracture, part of the bone may protrude from the wound. It can be hard to move a broken bone and you might have trouble walking if the bone in your leg is broken.

How is a Broken Bone Treated?

First aid techniques help stabilize a bone until you can reach the hospital. Ice the injury and elevate the injured area to reduce swelling. Gently clean the wound with soap and water to help prevent bacteria from entering the wound and cover it with a bandage. If the broken bone is an arm or a leg, applying a sling or splint will stop the injured area from moving and keep the bone stable. A rolled up magazine or newspaper can be used as a homemade splint. If you have a possible broken upper leg, spine, pelvis, or hip, stay where you are until help arrives and don’t try to move the bone. Attempting to move it could cause more damage to the injured area.

When you reach the hospital, you will get an X-ray to determine if the bone is broken and to identify the type of fracture. The doctor will make sure that your bone is aligned correctly before stabilizing it or placing it in a cast. If the bones are not aligned correctly, the injury won’t heal properly. If you have a broken bone that cannot be put in a cast, such as broken collarbone, your doctor may recommend that you keep the bone still by using a sling or special bandage. If the bone has shattered or if you have a compound fracture, surgery may be needed. During surgery, your doctor might put pins or plates in the bone to hold it together while it heals.

What is the Prognosis for a Broken Bone?

Healing can take weeks or months, depending on the type and severity of the break. Fractures in adults usually take a minimum of six weeks to heal, while a fracture in a child may heal in only a few weeks, according to the ClevelandClinic. After the bone heals, you may need to perform exercises to strengthen muscles that weren’t used while your bone was in a cast. Your doctor may suggest some exercises you can do at home, or you may need to work with a physical therapist to strengthen your muscles and regain flexibility in your joints.