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Ouch, This Hurts: The Most Common Types of Fractures, Their Causes, and Treatment

Fractures are common orthopedic problem, especially among the aging population. Here’s a complete guide to the most common types of fractures.

The adult human skeleton contains a total of 206 different bones.

Bones function as structural support, help us move in different ways, and even protect our vital organs. And while many of our bones have some resistance, they're prone to breaking from too much external force.

When our bones fracture, we're left with limited mobility for weeks or months at a time. But knowing the most common types of fractures and how they're caused can help you prevent that from happening.

Keep reading to learn about the kinds of fractures as well as how they're caused and treated.

What Is a Fracture?

Made mostly of a protein called collagen, our bones are rigid. This means that they bend - but only to a certain point. If too much external force is applied, our bones will break.

A fracture is what's commonly called a broken bone. Fractures can be complete or partial. There are breaks that go lengthwise, crosswise or leave a floating piece of bone behind.

If you've fractured a bone, you'll likely know it by the pain. They often leave a person with limited mobility, swelling, tenderness, and bruising. In some cases, a fracture can cause a deformity wherein you limb contorts in a way it definitely should not.

Common Causes of Fractures

At its most basic level, a fracture happens when the amount of external force on the bone is more than it can absorb. Often, this involves trauma or an accident such as a fall or a car accident.

Other common causes of fractures include:

Repetitive motion. This type of fracture is typical for athletes. When a person engages in repetitive motions, overuse of muscles can lead to muscle fatigue. This results in more force on the bone and leads to stress fractures.

Osteoporosis. This health condition directly affects the strength of bones. As bones become weaker, they're more susceptible to fracturing.

Smoking. Both tobacco and nicotine cause an increased risk for bone fractures. They also hinder the healing process when fractures occur.

Diet and exercise can make you less prone to fractures. A healthy diet that contains a sufficient amount of calcium and Vitamin D leads to stronger, more resistant bones. The same is true for regular, weight-bearing exercise.

Most Common Types of Fractures

Depending on the amount and type of force that caused the fracture, the severity will vary. The following are the most common types of fractures:

  • Simple or stable fractures involve a broken bone that's aligned and therefore stable. This means that the ends of the break line up with the bone and remain almost in place.
  • Comminuted fractures mean the bone broke in more than one spot. These type of fractures involve a bone that has shattered into 3 or more pieces.
  • Greenstick fractures are incomplete fractures wherein the broken piece is not completely separated from the rest of the bone.
  • Transverse fractures are when the bone breaks along a horizontal line.
  • Complex fractures are harder to treat because they involve a break that causes the bone to shift.
  • Open or compound fractures occur when the skin is pierced at the time of the fracture. It can also involve a bone that pierces the skin as a result of the fracture.
  • Spiral fractures typically happen when a twisting motion causes the fracture. In this type of break, the fracture is spiraled around the bone.
  • Compression fractures are the name for crushed bones that become wide and flat in appearance.
  • Segmental fractures leave a floating segment of bone when it's fractured in more than one place.

Diagnosing the type of fracture that has occurred typically requires an x-ray. Only with an x-ray can a doctor determine how the bone has broken and what kind of treatment is required.

Treating Fractures

The way a doctor decides to treat a fracture involves a number of factors. These include:

  • How old you are
  • The condition of your health and your medical history
  • The type of fracture
  • How you tolerate medication and therapy
  • You own preferences

Their main goal in treating a fracture is to reduce the amount of pain you're in while giving you as much mobility as possible. They also work to promote healing and prevent any future complications.

As such, it can take as little as weeks and as much as months to treat and restore the fracture. Although the pain might stop within a few days or weeks, that's usually not a signal that the fracture has healed. You'll have to follow your doctor's treatment plan and avoid normal activity until they determine that you've healed.

With that said, there are many ways a doctor may treat a broken bone. We've broken down the two most common in more detail below.

Bracing or Casting

After the bones have been repositioned, a plastic or fiberglass cast can be placed over the area that needs to heal. This severely limits the mobility of the area and allows the bones a chance to fuse together again.

A brace work similar to a cast but gives you a bit more mobility in the nearby joints. This can't be used in all fractures, especially more severe ones.

Pins, Screws, and Plates

This type of treatment requires an operation. First, the bones and fragments are repositioned and realigned. Then, pins, screws and/or metal plates are inserted in a way that helps hold the bones in place while they heal.

Additional Health Resources

Broken bones are caused by everything from trauma and accidents to health conditions that weaken the bones. Even the most common types of fractures are painful and require treatment immediately - or the situation could worsen. After an x-ray, a doctor can recommend treatment based not only on the type of fracture but also on your age and health.

And for more resources on understanding your health and the health of your family, check out our blog.