A bone fracture is a medical condition in which a bone is cracked or broken. A fracture occurs when a force exerted against a bone is stronger than it can structurally withstand.
Fractures are among the most common orthopedic problems. Doctors treat about 6.8 million fractures each year in the United States. The average person can expect to sustain two fractures over their lifetime.
While many fractures are the result of high-force impact or stress, they also may occur as a result of certain medical conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis or certain types of cancer. Types of fractures include:
- Compound fracture. When the bone exits and is visible through the skin, it is considered an open, or compound, fracture. This type has a high risk for infection.
- Simple fracture. The bone is broken, but the skin is still intact.
- Comminuted fracture. The bone is shattered or broken into three or more pieces, and fragments are present at the site. This type of complicated fracture tends to heal slowly.
- Segmental fracture. The bone is fractured in two places, so there is a “floating” segment of bone.
- Compression fracture. Two bones are forced against each other, crushing them where they meet. The bones of the spine, called vertebrae, are prone to this type of fracture. Elderly people, particularly those with osteoporosis, are at increased risk.
- Stress fracture or hairline fracture. This overuse injury is most often seen in the lower leg, shin or foot. Athletes are at higher risk because they make repeated footfalls on hard surfaces.
- Pathological fracture. Bones weakened by various diseases (such as osteoporosis or cancer) can break with very little force.
- Greenstick fracture. The bone sustains a small, slender crack. This type is more common in children because of the comparative flexibility of their bones.
- Bow fracture. Also common in children, a bow fracture occurs when the bone is bent but not broken.
Treatment may include a splint or cast, pain relievers, traction, or surgery.