Broken bones are called fractures and can occur in any bone of the body that suffers trauma. The average person experiences two fractures in his or her lifetime, and the injuries are most common among children. The elderly are also at high risk due to decreased bone density and greater instances of falling.
Identifying Fracture Types
Fractures fall into one of four major categories:
• Displaced – Bones break into two or more misaligned parts
• Non-displaced – Bone cracks partially or completely through but remains aligned
• Open – Bone penetrates the skin
• Closed – Bone remains inside the body
Common fracture types within these categories include comminuted fractures, in which the bone is broken into multiple pieces; impacted fractures, where the ends of bones get crushed together; and thin cracks known as stress fractures. Pathologic fractures result from weakening of the bones caused by underlying diseases.
Broken bones can usually be identified by one or more of the following symptoms:
• Pain that worsens with movement or pressure
• Swollen or bruised area around the bone
• Visible deformity
• Visible protruding bone
• Muscle spasms
• Inability to move or use the injured area
However, not all fractures are accompanied by symptoms. In the case of stress fractures, for example, the initial discomfort may take days to become painful enough to indicate a broken bone.
Since fractures occur without warning, you may need to visit an urgent care center instead of your regular doctor. The physicians there will examine the area for swelling and skin damage before doing an Xray to determine the severity of the break. Some fractures require a CT scan, MRI or bone scan to be visible. These scans also reveal any associated damage to the surrounding tissue.
A splint may be applied until the initial swelling has subsided enough to put the broken bone in a cast. The cast is left on until the bone heals, although rehabilitation exercises are usually prescribed beforehand to prevent loss of function.
Fractures accompanied by loss of consciousness, heavy bleeding, visible bone protrusion or discoloration of the extremities should be treated in an emergency room immediately.