All broken bones are considered fractures. It doesn't matter whether it's just a little crack or a big break with lots of pieces.
Broken bones hurt a lot and cause swelling
Your bone may look bent or out of place
Broken bones sometimes damage nerves or blood vessels near the break
Doctors diagnose broken bones using x-rays, but sometimes a CT scan or MRI is helpful
Doctors move broken bones back into place and hold them there with a splint, cast, or sometimes metal pins, screws, and plates
Go to the nearest emergency department if you get hurt and have a lot of pain or swelling or if you can’t move or use the body part you injured.
What are the different types of fractures?
Doctors use lots of terms to describe different broken bones. The terms have to do with things like:
How are the pieces of broken bone lined up?
Is there a hole in your skin and is the bone sticking out?
Does the break go into one of your joints?
The pieces of a broken bone are sometimes lined up pretty straight. But usually they're bent, twisted, pulled apart, or jammed together. Sometimes your bone is broken into several small pieces.
An open fracture is when the sharp end of a broken bone has poked through your skin. Often, the bone goes back in and there's just a little cut. But sometimes the bone is sticking out. An open fracture can let germs and dirt get into the broken bone and cause a bone infection Osteomyelitis "Osteo-" means bone, and "-itis" means inflammation. Osteomyelitis is the medical term for a bone infection. Bone is living tissue and can get infected like any other part of your body Infection... read more . Bone infections keep your fracture from healing.
A break that goes into a joint can heal with a rough edge that can cause permanent joint pain and stiffness.
Some Types of Fractures
What causes broken bones?
You can break a bone if:
Your bone is bent or twisted too far, such as from a fall or sports injury
Something hits your bone really hard, such as a heavy object or the impact from a car crash
You have constant, repeated impact on a bone, such as from running—this is called a stress fracture
What are the symptoms of a broken bone?
Symptoms of fractures include:
Pain when you touch, put weight on, or use your injured body part
Trouble using the injured part normally (for example, if you have an ankle fracture, you may not be able to stand on your foot)
Sometimes numbness or tingling if a nerve is injured
The broken bone bleeds. This can cause a bruise after a day or so.
How can doctors tell if one of my bones is broken?
Sometimes, doctors also do a CT scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more or an MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer records changes in the magnetic field around your body. The computer then uses... read more .
How do doctors treat broken bones?
Broken bones heal best when the two ends are touching and lined up straight. If they're not touching and lined up, doctors need to move them so that they are. This is called "reducing a fracture," or "setting the bone."
If your fracture is pushing on a blood vessel or nerve, or if it's an open fracture, doctors reduce it right away. Otherwise, doctors often wait a few days to let the swelling go down. Until then, they'll put on a splint and give you pain medicine.
After reducing the fracture, doctors need to hold the broken pieces in place so they don't move until they're done healing. To hold them in place, doctors may use
Splints and casts are made of hard material such as plaster or fiberglass. Doctors first put on some soft padding so the plaster or fiberglass doesn't scrape your skin. In a cast, the hard material wraps all the way around your arm or leg. In a splint, the hard material goes only partway around.
During surgery for a broken bone, doctors may use:
A long metal rod put inside the hollow center of your bones
Screws and metal plates attached directly to the broken bones
A metal frame on the outside of your leg or arm that's pinned to your broken bones (an external fixator)
If you have an open fracture, you may also need surgery to clean dirt and germs off the ends of the broken bones.
How do I take care of a cast?
If you have a cast, you should do the following:
Keep your cast dry while bathing—protect it with a waterproof cast cover or plastic bag (use rubber bands to seal the opening)
If the cast gets damp, dry it with a hair dryer—if it gets too wet your doctor may need to replace it
Elevate the cast when you can to lessen swelling
To protect your skin, put tape on any rough cast edges
Clean the area around your cast every day
Never put objects inside your cast
Call your doctor if you get a fever or if your cast:
Feels very tight
Causes pain, numbness, or weakness in the injured body part
Causes redness or soreness
Has a bad smell