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A bone fracture is an injury that happens when bones are put under more pressure than they can handle. There are many kinds of bone fracture, each with their own symptoms, healing times, and treatments. Some fractures are more serious than others, but you should see a doctor if you suspect you have a bone fracture of any kind.

What are Fractures?

A bone fracture is a broken bone. Bone fractures happen when bones are put under more pressure than they can handle. Common causes include falling, car accidents, direct hits, abuse, and repetitive forces. All of these can put enough pressure on the bone to make it split or break.

A break of any size is called a fracture, but there are different kinds of breaks:

  • Open fracture.  Sometimes, the broken bone can push through the skin. This is called an open, or compound, fracture.
  • Closed fracture. When the bone breaks but leaves the skin intact (closed), this is called a closed fracture.
  • Stress fracture. A stress fracture happens when a bone is put under repeated stress over time, which makes the bone crack.

If you think you have a broken bone, you should get medical treatment right away. Keeping the bone still and cleaning the injured area if there is a cut are first aid steps that you can take to keep your injuries safer while waiting for medical help.  Depending on the type of break, your doctor may set the bone and keep it in place with a splint or cast.

You can take steps to reduce the chance that you fracture your bone by staying safe and practicing good habits that prevent injury.

Symptoms

Some symptoms of a bone fracture can be the same as other related injuries like dislocated joints. However, both conditions should be dealt with in the same way. Common symptoms of a broken bone include:

  • A bone that is out of place
  • A joint that is the wrong shape
  • Swelling, bruising, or bleeding
  • Intense pain
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Broken skin with bone sticking through (protruding)
  • Difficulty moving the broken area
Usually, these symptoms will be worst near the bone that is broken, but you may feel pain or other symptoms in nearby areas of the body, for instance, joints near the injured part of your body.

When to See a Doctor

If you think you’ve broken a bone, you should see a doctor as soon as you can.  Some kinds of bone fracture are medical emergencies, so you should call 911 if you or the person who is injured:

  • Does not respond when called or loses consciousness (falls asleep).
  • Might have broken their head, neck, or back.
  • Has a bone fracture in their hip, pelvis, or upper leg.
  • Can’t stop their bone from moving with a splint or sling.
  • Has severe bleeding.
  • Has skin that is cold, clammy, or blue. This can mean that there are problems with blood flow below the broken bone.
  • Has a broken bone that comes through the skin (a compound fracture).
Other kinds of broken bones may not be emergencies, but you should still see a doctor if you think that you have broken any bone. Medical treatment can help a bone heal faster and with less long-term issues.

Causes

There are many causes for a bone fracture. Anything that puts enough stress on a bone or wears it out over time can make it break. Common causes include:

  • Falling from a height (out of a window or off a tree).
  • Car accidents.
  • A direct hit to the bone (common in contact sports like football).
  • Abuse (to either children or adults).
  • Long-term impact from activities like running or other exercise.

Diagnosis and Tests

Sometimes, your doctor will be able to tell that a bone is broken just by looking at it. Even if this is the case, your doctor will most likely order an imaging test like an x-ray to take pictures of the injured area and find out what type of bone fracture you have. X-rays can also rule out the diagnosis of a dislocated joint.

Treatments

Bone fractures can cause other problems in your body, such as bleeding and damage to internal organs and tissue. Fractures can also be part of an accident that may have caused other injuries. If you think you have a bone fracture, you should get medical help right away.

First Aid

There are some first aid steps you can take to stay safe while you wait for medical help to come.  You can help the injured person by:

  • Checking their airway and breathing. If necessary, begin rescue breathing or CPR.
  • Keeping them still and calm. Moving or squirming can make the bone fracture worse or cause more injuries.
  • Checking them for other injuries near the bone fracture and on other parts of the body.
  • If the bone broke the skin, treating their wounds to prevent infection. Do not breathe on the wound or touch it with your hands.  If you can, rinse the wound to remove dirt or other objects.
  • If needed, stop the bone from moving by using a splint or sling. Strips of wood or a rolled-up newspaper can be used if you do not have a medical splint.
  • Use ice packs to reduce pain and swelling.

Many times, a broken bone is part of an accident that may have caused other injuries, such as a car crash.  In these situations, you should know that there may be other serious injuries that you can’t see.

Medical Treatment

Treatment for a bone fracture will depend on the type of break, where in your body the broken bone is, and your doctor’s diagnosis of the fracture. If you have a bone fracture where the two sides of the break are out of line, your doctor may need to set the bone.  There are two main ways of setting broken bone:

  • In a closed reduction, your doctor realigns the bone so that it will heal straight. Setting the bone can be painful, so your doctor will give you medicine so that it doesn’t hurt.
  • An open reduction is a surgery that is used for more complicated or serious bone fractures. In an open reduction, your doctor makes a cut in the skin and uses metal pins and plates to keep the bone in place while it heals.  If you need an open reduction, your doctor will put you to sleep (with anesthesia) for the surgery.
Healing time for a fracture might take several weeks or months depending on which bone was broken and what kind of fracture it was.

Prevention

Bone fractures happen when too much pressure is placed on a bone. There are several steps that you can take to minimize the chance that you will have a bone fracture.

  • Use protective gear while exercising or playing sports. Protective gear includes helmets, elbow pads, knee pads, shin pads, and other sports equipment.
  • If you have young children, make sure your house is safe for them. Put a child gate on stairways to prevent them from falling down the stairs. Make sure you keep windows closed so that your child can’t fall out.
  • Look for trip and fall hazards in your house. These can include extension cords, throw rugs, and other objects that are easy to miss.
  • Be safe and look out for yourself or your children. Looking both ways before crossing the street, using stair railings, and preventing falls can all reduce the chance of a bone fracture.