A fracture (broken bone) occurs when stress placed on the bone is more than the bone can absorb. Every year, about 7 million fractures happen in the United States, most commonly in children and the elderly.
Causes include trauma and "unusual or repeated" stress. If the fracture occurs through an area of diseased bone (like osteoporosis) it is considered a pathological fracture.
Symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising, numbness, deformity, and loss of function.
Types of bone fractures include:
Complete – The break involves the entire cross-section (width) of the bone. Usually the bone is displaced.
Displaced – The bone is not aligned (not in its normal position).
Incomplete – The break involves only a portion of the cross-section of the bone. Usually the bone is nondisplaced.
Nondisplaced – The bone stays in its normal position (aligned).
Open (also called Compound) – The fractured bone causes a break in the skin and underlying soft tissue (after it breaks the skin, the bone can recede back and no longer be visible). The risk of infection is high with this type of fracture.
Closed (also called Simple) – The bone does not break the skin.
Single – Only one fracture has occurred.
Multiple – More than one fracture has occurred in the same bone.
Hairline – The line of the break is very thin.
Buckle – The bone bends without breaking. Mostly occurs in young children because they have softer bones.
Greenstick – One side of the bone is broken and the other side is bent (similar to the break observed when a green stick is broken).
Transverse – The fracture is straight across the bone (crosswise, at right angles to the long axis of the bone).
Linear – The fracture is parallel to the bone's axis.
Oblique – A fracture occurring at an angle across the bone (slanting but straight, between a horizontal and a perpendicular direction).
Spiral – A fracture twisting around the shaft of the bone (slanting and circular).
Depressed – Fragment or fragments is/are indriven (pushed in). This type is seen frequently in fractures of the skull and facial bones.
Compression – The bone collapses in on itself. Mostly seen in vertebral fractures.
Avulsion – A fragment of bone is pulled off by ligament or tendon attachment.
Impacted – A fragment of bone is wedged into another bone fragment.
Comminuted – The bone is broken into pieces (crushed or shattered).
Complicated – Bone fragments cause damage to other organs or tissues (such as the bladder or lung).
Fracture dislocation – These type of bone fractures are complicated by the bone being out of the joint.
The Lippincott Manual of Nursing Practice, Fourth Edition (1986)
Image courtesy of the National Institute of Health.