Posted by Dr. Marc Anderson

What is the difference between fracture and broken?

Fracture terms have changed over the years creating some confusion regarding what is appropriate terminology. Fracture and broken both have the same meaning but the preferred term among health care providers is fracture. Fractures can be further divided into types such as:

– simple (single line fracture)

– comminuted (multiple fragments)

– closed (skin intact)

– open (the bones displace enough to protrude through the skin)

– non displaced (bones aligned)

– displaced (bones not aligned)

The goals of fracture treatment include restoring alignment, promoting bone healing, and return of function as soon as possible to prevent stiffness and wasting of muscles.

Emergency fracture situations are when the displacement or swelling is severe enough to compromise the circulation and when the fracture is open. Both cases require urgent care and immediate surgical attention.

As a result of expanded and safer surgical procedures, fractures are now often treated by stabilization with some form of hardware. In general, the longer and tubular bones such as the thigh bone (femur), leg bone (tibia), and upper arm (humerus) are treated with a long titanium rod placed down the center, hollow portion of the bone. Smaller bones or fractures close to joint, such as an ankle, wrist, or elbow, are treated with a combination of plates and screws.

The two main advantages of stabilization are:

1. the alignment is restored and the bones are held rigidly in place to allow them to heal back together with new calcium formation, and

2. since the bones are held in place solidly, earlier motion and strengthening can be started and earlier weight bearing.

Both of these help prevent muscle atrophy which, if present, can take a long time to reverse, sometimes much longer than the fracture takes to heal.

Most fractures take about 6 weeks to heal but severely comminuted or displaced fractures can take three months or more. It is not unusual for it to take up to a year to restore full motion and strength.