Fractures

Fractures: An Overview

  1. How Do Fractures Happen?
  2. Diagnosing Fractures
  3. Types of Fractures
  4. Treatment for Fractures
  5. Recovery and Rehabilitation

How Do Fractures Happen?

Fractures can happen in a variety of ways, but there are three common causes.  Trauma accounts for most fractures, for example, a fall, a motor vehicle accident or a injury during contact sport.  Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) is another common cause of fractures whereby the bones fragile and easily broken.  Finally, overuse sometimes can result in stress fractures. These are common among athletes.

Diagnosing Fractures

A fracture is usually immediately apparent.  Symptoms such as hearing a snap or cracking sound,  tenderness and swelling around the fracture, deformity of the affected limb or a part of the bone may puncture through the skin. X-rays confirm the diagnosis.  Stress fractures are more difficult to diagnose, because they may not immediately appear on an X-ray; however, there may be pain, tenderness and mild swelling.

Types of Fractures

  • There are a number of different terms used to describe fractures.  Common terms include:
  • Closed or simple fracture, where the bone is broken, but the skin is not lacerated.
  • Open or compound fracture, where the skin may be pierced by the bone or by a blow that breaks the skin at the time of the fracture. The bone may or may not be visible in the wound.
  • Transverse fracture, where the fracture is at right angles to the long axis of the bone.
  • Greenstick fracture, where the fracture is on one side of the bone only, causing a bend on the other side of the bone.
  • Comminuted fracture, where the fracture that results in three or more bone fragments.

Treatment for Fractures

Casts, splints, pins, or other devices are used to hold a fracture in the correct position (alignment) while the bone is healing. External fixation methods include plaster and fibreglass casts, cast-braces, splints, and other devices.  Internal fixation methods hold the broken pieces of bone in proper alignment with metal plates, pins, or screws while the bone is healing.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Fractures take several weeks to several months to heal, depending on the extent of the injury and patient compliance with medical advice. Pain usually stops long before the fracture is solid enough to handle the stresses of normal activity. Even after the cast or brace is removed, limitation in activity levels may be required until the bone is solid enough to use in normal activity.  Usually, by the time the bone is strong enough, the muscles will be weak because they have not been used. Surrounding ligaments may feel “stiff” from not using them.

A period of rehabilitation that involves exercises and gradually increasing activity will be required before the affected tissues will perform their functions normally and the healing process is complete.