There are a number of different types of bone fractures, all of which require individualized treatment which also takes the health of the patient and the individual bone or bones concerned into account. Before delving into the wide world of bone fractures, it may help to know that the terms “fracture” and “break” mean the same thing. Both involve some sort of damage to the bone which has caused it to become cracked or broken; “break” is a layman's term which is not widely used by medical professionals.
Bone fractures are classified into several basic categories. They are either closed, meaning that the skin is intact, or open, in which case the skin at the site has been damaged in some way. Open fractures are potentially more dangerous, as they can become infected, especially when substances are introduced into the wound. Fractures are also classified as simple, involving one line of injury, or multi-fragmentary, characterized by a split or crack in several directions. As you can imagine, a simple fracture is classically easier to treat.
Once the basic characteristics of a fracture are identified, a doctor can focus on what kind of fracture it is. A classic fracture in which the bone is literally broken in half is called a complete fracture, while a less serious fracture in which only part of the bone is broken is called a greenstick fracture. In a compacted fracture, shards of bone are actually driven into each other, while a compression fracture is caused by gradual long term compression of the spine.
When a bone is broken along the long side, it is known as a linear fracture. Bone fractures which run perpendicularly to the long end of the bone are called transverse fractures. An oblique fracture runs along the diagonal, while a spiral fracture is caused by twisting of the bone, causing a characteristic spiral pattern at the site.
The cause of bone fractures is typically trauma such as a harsh blow or a fall. Fractures can also occur spontaneously in people with fragile bones; the elderly, for example, may experience fractures after a mild fall because their bones have become brittle. In all cases, the best prognosis for a fracture requires prompt medical treatment to align the bones, clean the wound, and set the bones, immobilizing them so that they have a chance to heal.