What are Some Different Types of Bone Fractures?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Casts are often used to treat bone fractures.
Casts are often used to treat bone fractures.

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.

A diagram of the anatomy of a bone.
A diagram of the anatomy of a bone.

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.

A sling may be used to immobilize the affected body part so that the fractured bone can reknit.
A sling may be used to immobilize the affected body part so that the fractured bone can reknit.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

pharmchick78

Great job mentioning the connection between osteoporosis and bone fractures. Osteoporosis remains unfortunately all too common, and people need to be reminded of how easy it is to get behind on their nutrition, fall, and end up with a serious medical problem.

Unlike typical bone fractures, those in people with osteoporosis can happen almost absurdly easily. I was once treating a patient with advanced osteoporosis, and she actually broke her rib rolling over in her hospice bed.

It is truly a serious condition, but fortunately, one that is reasonably easy to prevent, with proper care.

So stock up on your milk and fish, pop some calcium supplements, and help yourself have a better quality of life for as long as possible.

pleats

I was wondering, is it possible to get a compression fracture in your feet from wearing shoes that are too tight?

One of my feet has recently become extremely painful and swollen, and I know that I don't have any fungus or infection, and there's been no trauma that I know of.

I looked at some bone fracture pictures (specifically metatarsal bone fractures) and it looks like I might could have one -- but I'm just not sure. If I haven't fallen or otherwise injured the foot, is it likely to be a fracture, or is it more likely to be something else?

Charlie89

When I was little I took a flying leap off the swingset and landed face first, getting nothing for my troubles with a nasty collar bone fracture.

That's one of those bone fracture types that you never really think about, because, seriously, who breaks their collar bone? Luckily it wasn't an open bone fracture, so it was easy to treat, but it definitely kept me from attempting any more daredevil stunts for a while.

obsessedwithloopy

To prevent bone fractures, especially in elderly people, it is important to get enough vitamin D. One way of getting vitamin D is by exposure to the sun when possible, supplements can be used also, but the best way at any age, getting vitamin D, is through milk and milk products and some fish like salmon.

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    • Casts are often used to treat bone fractures.
      By: kameel
      Casts are often used to treat bone fractures.
    • A diagram of the anatomy of a bone.
      By: Alila
      A diagram of the anatomy of a bone.
    • A sling may be used to immobilize the affected body part so that the fractured bone can reknit.
      By: leschnyhan
      A sling may be used to immobilize the affected body part so that the fractured bone can reknit.