Broken bones can occur at any age and depending on their severity, they may sideline the unlucky patient for several weeks or even months.
Classification Based on Cause of Fracture
Fractures may be classified according to their aetiology, or the cause of the fracture:
- fractures caused solely by sudden injury – these types of fractures are most common and are caused by direct trauma to a bone or area of the body.
- fatigue fractures – also knows as stress fractures mostly occur in the lower limb, such as the tibia (shin bone), fibula or in the bones of the foot.
- pathological fractures – these fractures occur in bones that are already affected by disease, such as osteoporosis.
There is a further variable to consider: whether the injury is an open or closed fracture.
Closed fractures are also known as simple fractures, because the trauma only affects the bone. On the other hand, open fractures (or compound fractures) are more serious and complicated to fix because the broken bone pierces the surrounding tissue and skin. In this situation, there is an increased risk of infection because the bone may be contaminated by bacteria on the surface of the skin and surrounding the wound.
Patterns of Bone Fracture
Another method of classifying fractures is based on the shape or pattern of the fracture surfaces, namely: transverse fractures, oblique fractures, spiral fractures, comminuted fractures, compression or crush fractures, greenstick fractures and avulsion fractures.
- A transverse fracture occurs when a bone is completely broken perpendicular to the way the bone runs; this type of fracture is commonly seen in long bones of the body, such as the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone).
- An oblique fracture occurs at an angle across the bone and is usually the result of a sharp angled blow to the bone. On an X-ray, the fracture can be seen as an oblique line running across the bone.
- Spiral fractures are caused by a twisting force through the bone and cause an oblique fracture around and through the affected bone.
- Comminuted fractures are quite serious because in this type of injury the bones are shattered into several smaller pieces. This type of fracture takes a longer time to heal than a more simple transverse fracture.
- Compression/crush fractures are commonly seen in the spine where one or more vertebrae are crushed, sometimes due to bone diseases such as osteoporosis.
- Greenstick fractures are usually seen in children, whose bones are more springy and resilient. The angulation force tends to bend the bone on one side and break it at the other side, thus producing an incomplete fracture.
- Avulsion fractures are caused when powerful muscle contractions pull the muscle tendon free from the bone it is attached to, pulling off a piece of the the bone.
The majority of fractures will require medical attention and treatment varies from a simple sling and immobilisation, to the application of a plaster cast or more invasive surgical intervention. Bone fractures require timely treatment to reduce the likelihood of complications and optimise recovery timeframes.
Betterhealth.vic.gov.au, “Bone Fractures” (accessed April 24, 2010)
Innerbody.com, “Broken Bones and Fractures” (accessed April 24, 2010)
J Adams and D Hamblen, Outline of Fractures: Including Joint Injuries, Churchill Livingstone, London 1999