Understanding the Different Types of Fractures

Understanding the Different Types of Fractures

When bones fracture, they don’t always have a straight break and two clean pieces. Bones break in different ways, creating different types of fractures.

The type of fracture you experience affects your speed of healing and determines the treatment you need. Though Andrew B. Richardson, MD, immobilizes all fractures to be sure they heal, the need for more intensive treatment or surgery depends on the fracture type. Here’s a rundown about the differences between fractures.

Open vs. closed fractures

All types of fractures are either open or closed. You have an open fracture when the bone breaks through the skin or you suffer a deep wound that exposes the bone. A closed fracture means the skin was unharmed and remains intact.

Open fractures make it easy for bacteria and other contaminants to invade. In addition to treating your fracture, we focus on cleaning the wound and preventing infection.

High-impact fractures in healthy bones

It takes substantial force to break a healthy, strong bone. The way a bone fractures depends on what happened at the time the bone broke. For example, some bones break when they’re twisted, and others fracture from a direct impact. Each one causes a different type of fracture.

The most common types of fractures caused by high-impact injuries include:

Stable fracture

If you have a stable fracture, the two pieces of bone barely move. They stay in their normal position with the broken ends lined up.

Transverse fracture

A transverse fracture occurs when the bones break straight across the bone, forming a horizontal fracture line.

Oblique fracture

When the break is curved or at an angle, you have an oblique fracture. This type of fracture often occurs when you suffer a sharp blow that comes from an angle.

Comminuted fracture

Your fracture is called a comminuted fracture when the bone breaks into more than two pieces. Fragmenting a bone requires even more force than other types of fractures.

Spiral fracture

A spiral fracture occurs from a strong twisting motion, causing a fracture that resembles a corkscrew or spiral staircase. While other types of fractures occur from a high-impact injury like falling, a car accident, or direct impact during a sports injury, spiral fractures often happen during sports that enable a severe twist. Skiing and football are two examples.

In a skiing accident, your leg can get twisted when it’s stuck in a boot. During contact sports like football, a player may rapidly twist to get free from being tackled.

Avulsion fractures

An avulsion fracture occurs when a sudden injury tears a ligament or tendon away from a bone. As the soft tissue breaks off, it also takes a small piece of bone along with it. You may suffer an avulsion fracture from a direct force like a hard tackle or by making sudden turns or stops while running.

Stress fractures

Stress fractures develop over time as you repeatedly perform the same movement and keep applying force to the bone. The ongoing force eventually causes a small break called a stress fracture. This type of fracture most often occurs in weight-bearing bones such as your foot, ankle, shin, and hip.

In many cases, overuse leads to muscle fatigue, which places more stress on the bone. Then the fracture finally occurs when you suddenly add to the stress by increasing the duration or intensity of your activity, run or walk on a new surface, or switch to different shoes.

Fragility fractures

Weak bones can break with very little force (low-energy trauma). For example, you may twist while getting up from sitting, cough too strenuously, or fall while standing (not from a height) and end up with a fracture.

Osteoporosis is the top cause of fragility fractures. However, these fractures also occur when cancer, noncancerous tumors, or an infection that has weakened your bones.

Fragility fractures cause a different type of bone damage. When weak bones fracture, they simply collapse because they can’t withstand the normal pressure. This type of fracture, called a compression fracture, most often occurs in spinal vertebrae.

Andrew B. Richardson, MD, provides exceptional treatment for all types of fractures. If you need help or have questions, call or book an appointment online today.

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