When you have an accident and suddenly experience pain, it might be due to a break, or fracture. Fractures are scary, painful, and can make it difficult to go about your normal life. Fortunately, with the correct care, most people recover fully. There are many different types of breaks, each requiring different treatment options.
Getting Treatment for a Broken Bone at UVA Health
Depending on the type of fracture you have, it might be immediately obvious or require diagnostics. Open fractures, where the bone breaks the skin, are quickly diagnosed. Closed fractures might require imaging or additional evaluations.
For most fractures, doctors will request x-rays. These show the exact location of the break and make sure there aren’t other injuries.
If your break happened because of serious trauma, like a car accident, then additional imaging may be necessary. This can include a CT scan or MRI. These imaging types will also help rule out other complications.
Supports for Healing
For most simple fractures, support, like a cast, can keep the bone in place while the injury heals. Supports can take a variety of different forms depending on where your break occurred and how serious it is. For a simple toe fracture, buddy-taping might be all that’s needed.
Slings, boots, and other supportive devices can help provide comfort and mobility during the healing period.
Surgery for Broken Bones
For breaks where the bone has separated, your doctor may need to operate and use pins, plates, or screws to hold the pieces of bone together till they can heal.
Broken bones can be intensely painful. Your doctor will talk to you about how to treat your pain with medication. It’s important to listen to their recommendations. Some medications, like aspirin, can cause problems with some fractures.
Types of Fractures
There are many types of fractures. These types are related to how stable the break is, where the break is, and how the bone is broken.
Compound vs Simple Fracture
Fractures that break the skin are called “compound” fractures. These breaks tend to be more complex and are more likely to require surgery. They also are more likely to cause complications like serious bleeding.
How They Broke
You can also describe fractures in terms of what they’ve done to the bone.
- Chip (avulsion fracture) — A small piece of bone is broken away from the main bone and usually attached to a ligament or tendon.
- Compression — The bone is compressed together, like the bones in your spine.
- Comminuted — A bone that’s been broken in at least two (but possibly more) places.
- Intra-articular — A break that’s across multiple bones on a joint.
- Transverse — The bone is broken straight across.
- Oblique — The bone is broken at an angle
- Spiral — The line of the fracture forms a spiral.
- Stress — A thin fracture line occurs due to overuse rather than a single traumatic incident.
Where The Break Happened
The third way of “typing” fractures is by which bone they affected. This is the most common way to describe an injury. Broken legs, broken toes, and broken wrists are all pretty self-explanatory.
Depending on the location of your fracture, you might see a specialist. Hand fractures, for example, often require seeing a hand specialist. At UVA Health, we have a hand center to help with recovery from hand injuries, including fractures.
Kids and Broken Bones
Several types of fractures almost exclusively affect children.
- Greenstick- A greenstick fracture is an incomplete fracture on one side of a bone. This happens most commonly when an arm or leg is bent. The broken part is on the outside of the bone.
- Buckle Fracture- Like greensticks, buckles are incomplete fractures. But they buckle out instead of bend in. This is usually caused by too much form, and the break tends to be on the inside edge of the bone.
- Growth plate fracture — A fracture that happens in an area where tissue is growing.
For fractures on children who are still growing, it’s important to consult with a pediatric orthopedist. They have more experience with growth plates and making sure injuries are set up to heal while still growing.
They may also be described as:
What Causes a Broken Bone?
Broken bones are usually caused by a traumatic event. This can include:
Sometimes broken bones are caused by overuse, like a stress fracture. In patients with more brittle bones, a misstep or stumble could be enough to cause a break.
What Makes Someone at Risk of a Fracture?
Some conditions can affect your bones, making them less dense. This makes it more likely that they’ll break in a fall. Some of these factors include:
- Being older
- Congenital bone disorders
Other things that can make you more at risk are your hobbies or profession.
- Jobs that require repetitive movement
- Participating in sports
- Decreased muscle mass
Any condition that causes an increase in falling risk, like nerve or muscle disorders, will also increase your risk of a broken bone. This includes conditions like Parkinson’s.
How Do You Know Your Bone Is Broken?
Most people know they’ve broken a bone. In addition to the trauma that caused it, they also feel instant and severe pain.
But others, especially those with stress fractures or partial fractures, won’t know right away. If you suspect you have a broken bone, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.
Some of the other symptoms of a broken bone include:
- Instability of area around the break
- Not able to use area normally
- Swelling or bruising
Healing After a Fracture
Some broken bones, like toes or noses, can heal in a matter of weeks. For more serious breaks or breaks involving denser bones, the healing can take months or even a year.
If you have a more serious break or a break affecting a joint, your doctor will talk to you about physical therapy. For proper healing, it’s very important you follow these recommendations. With the right exercises, you can improve your healing.
Can There Be Complications from a Broken Bone?
Most of the time, broken bones heal very well. Most of the time, complications are related to the other injuries caused by whatever accident broke your bone.
Though uncommon, there are possible complications from a broken bone. These include:
- Delayed union- when the bone takes longer to heal than expected.
- Nonunion- The bone doesn’t heal on its own and needs help.
- Infection- More common after an open fracture where the skin has been broken.
- Nerve or artery damage- Usually a result of serious trauma.
- Compartment syndrome- Swelling in limbs that causes damage to body tissues and severe pain.
- Late arthritis-may happen if the surface of a joint is damaged
Following your doctor’s recommendations for follow-up and physical therapy can help prevent serious complications.
While there’s no way to completely prevent fractures, you can reduce your chances.
- Maintain bone health with vitamin d and calcium.
- Do exercises to build muscles for balancing
- Wear protective gear when participating in activities
- If you have osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about medications that can reduce bone loss