A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. When a fracture happens, it’s classified as either open or closed:
- Open fracture: The bone pokes through the skin and can be seen, or a deep wound exposes the bone through the skin.
- Closed fracture: The bone is broken, but the skin is intact.
What causes fractures?
- Fractures most often happen when more force is applied to the bone than the bone can take. Bones are weakest when they are twisted.
- Bone fractures can be caused by falls, trauma, or as a result of a direct blow or kick to the body.
- Overuse or repetitive motions can tire muscles and put more pressure on the bone. This causes stress fractures. This is more common in athletes.
- Fractures can also be caused by diseases that weaken the bone, such as osteoporosis or cancer in the bones.
What are the symptoms of a fracture?
Each person may experience symptoms differently. The following are the most common symptoms of a fracture.
- Swelling or bruising over a bone
- Deformity of an arm or leg
- Pain in the injured area that gets worse when the area is moved or pressure is applied
- An inability to bear weight on the affected foot, ankle, or leg
- Loss of function in the injured area
- In open fractures, bone protruding from the skin
The symptoms of a broken bone may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is a fracture diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history (including asking how the injury happened) and physical exam, tests used for a fracture may include the following:
- X-ray. A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to make pictures of internal tissues, bones, and organs on film.
- Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). This is an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan shows details of the bones, muscles, fat, and organs.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
You should see a healthcare provider any time you think you may have a broken bone. This can be a medical emergency. Any injury to the bones of the spine is also a medical emergency. These cause severe back pain and may cause nerve problems. These include numbness, tingling, weakness, or bowel/bladder problems. Call 911 if you suspect a person has a break in the bones of their spine.