What is a fracture, and how do you know you have one?

Panorama of surgeon medicating woman with hand fracture
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July 1, 2023

Your body is a complex system, and many variables could affect how you heal from any particular injury.

A recent investigation conducted by the National Institutes of Health studied bone fractures in over 50,000 patients. They found that many things can cause a broken bone, such as a fall from a height or a car accident. They can also be caused by chronic illnesses, such as osteoporosis.

When it comes to treatment options, some of the most common ones are orthopedic casts, braces, splints. They each come in different shapes and forms, but all serve a common purpose: help your fracture heal.

This article will discuss the causes and symptoms of fractures - and of course how to avoid them as well as some potential treatments if you do find yourself with a broken bone.

What is a fracture, and what causes it?

Fractures are partial or complete breaks in a bone. They can occur when a bone is stretched, pulled apart, or when a heavy force is applied to it.

Broken bones are extremely common. Millions of people in the United States break a bone each year, and these breaks can affect different parts of the body. Some of the most common sites are the arm, hip, ankle, and wrist.

For some people, however, broken bones are a result of a condition known as osteoporosis. The bone is in fact a living tissue that is constantly absorbed and replaced by the body. But when the loss of old bone is greater than the creation of new bone, osteoporosis occurs.

The result is weak and brittle bones that increase the risk of fractures. This condition can affect both men and women of all races, although some people may be at higher risk.

Physical trauma and overuse are also frequent causes of broken bones.

Different Types Of Fractures

Types of bone fractures
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There are several types of fractures including:

Colles Fracture: A type of broken wrist characterized by a complete break of the radius bone.

Spiral Fracture: When a long bone (femur, tibia, fibula) is broken by a twisting or rotating force.

Transverse Fracture: A break that goes in a straight line across the bone (right angle to the axis of the bone).

Comminuted Fracture: Occurs when the bone is broken into two or more fragments.

Hairline Fracture: Also called stress fractures, these are tiny cracks or severe bruising of a bone that typically happen as a result of overuse.

Compression Fracture: Often seen in people who have osteoporosis, they are a type of back break marked by the collapse in one's vertebrae.

Greenstick Fracture: Occurring mostly during childhood, this is a partial break that is often caused by bending forces.


So how do you know you might have a broken bone? Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Severe pain and inability to move the affected area
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Deformity
  • Protrusion in the case of an open fracture

I think I have a fracture. What are my treatment options?

Cast21 Waterproof Immobilization Net

After an initial diagnosis with the help of CT scans or X-rays, a doctor, such as an orthopedic surgeon, can recommend the appropriate solution for you. Your treatment options can depend on several factors, including the location of the broken bone and its severity.

Broken bones actually heal by themselves. But to ensure that the healing process is optimized, doctors often use a variety of medical treatments. In more severe cases, this can include surgery or metal rods and pins. In other cases, the options may include:

  • Orthopedic cast

The purpose of casting is to immobilize the bone and reduce motion until it has healed. Casts are traditionally made of plaster and fiberglass. Nowadays, there are more options, including synthetic casts, 3D printed casts, and fully waterproof cast alternatives such as Cast21's immobilization net.

These can be used for arms, legs, and even your whole body.

  • Orthopedic Braces

Braces are used to provide support to the healing bones. They allow the patient to participate in certain weight-bearing activities such as light walking.

Just like casts, braces also come in a variety of shapes and sizes with one of the most common ones being orthopedic walking boots.

  • Splints

Used to stabilize the injured area, splints are often the treatment of choice in case of swelling. Once the swelling goes down, a cast or brace can then be used to protect the bone as it heals.

How Much Time Does It Take To Recover?

Closeup midsection of a man with broken arm in cast
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During the healing process, the bone goes through a gradual recovery. This may take anywhere between a few weeks to several months to heal.

The recovery time is influenced by things such as the type of bone affected, the fracture's severity, its degree of immobilization, and even patient-related factors like age, nutrition, and health habits.

If your bones are taking more than a few months to heal, your doctor may also recommend special therapies to help speed up the process.

Putting it all together

From overuse to traumas and even medical conditions, various things can cause a fracture.

Once it happens, symptoms such as pain, swelling, and deformities often appear. However, a full diagnosis can be done by a medical professional to determine if you have a fracture, its severity, and the appropriate treatment for you.

Cast and braces are some of the most common devices that are used to treat a broken bone. Depending on the material they are made of, they can offer additional lifestyle benefits for you to enjoy for the duration of your healing process.

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