Bone Fractures and Broken Bones | UPMC Orthopaedic Care (2023)

Breaks, or fractures, are common injuries to bones. Every year, broken bones cause people to miss work, school, sports, and fun activities.

But a fracture may not feel common when it happens to you.

Fortunately, there are many ways to treat fractures, as casting technology has improved. Some broken bones require surgery. Other less severe fractures may heal with rest.

You can't always know if you have a broken bone. That's why it's important to seek care if you have symptoms of a fracture.

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To request an appointment or for additional information, please call1-866-987-6784orsubmit a form online.

  • Overview
  • Treatment

What Is a Bone Fracture?

A fracture is a broken bone. It can be anything from a small crack to a bone that has separated and moves out of place.

Bone fracture symptoms include:

  • Sharp pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Bruising.

Doctors can often treat bone fractures with a cast or splint. Severe breaks may need surgery.

Fractures are one of the most common injuries to bones. A Lancet study found that there are about 178 million fractures a year worldwide. About 18.3 million of those are in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bone and Joint Initiative.

By the time they're 65, about half of all Americans will have broken a bone. These fractures range in severity and treatment.

What are the types of bone fractures?

Bones can break in different ways. The angle and degree of the crack matter when doctors are deciding how to treat the fracture.

Types of bone breaks include:

  • Stress fracture: A tiny crack in the bone, usually caused by a repetitive motion or force.
  • Stable fracture: A "clean break" where the broken ends of the bone are still in alignment. This means the bones aren't displaced.
  • Compound fracture: Also known as an "open" fracture, this is when the bone has broken the skin. (You may or may not be able to see the bone.)
  • Oblique fracture: The bone breaks in an angled pattern and has a curve or slope in the break. Sometimes oblique fractures are also displaced, meaning the bone is out of alignment.
  • Transverse fracture: The bone has a horizontal fracture line and may or may not be out of place.
  • Comminuted fracture: The bone breaks into three or more pieces, meaning there's more than one fracture in the bone.

Causes of fractures and breaks

Common causes of bone fractures and breaks include:

  • Falls.
  • Sports injuries.
  • Car accidents.

Children are at a high risk of breaks and fractures since their developing bones have weaker spots (growth plates) that expand as they grow.

As we age, our bones become less dense and weaker. This puts older adults at an increased risk of broken bones.

What Are Risk Factors and Complications of Bone Fractures and Breaks?

People of all ages can break a bone. Children, especially those who play sports, are at risk of fractures because they are so active.


But your risk for fractures goes up as you age. Half of adults over 50 — 54 million Americans — are at risk for breaking a bone because of low bone density.

Severe low bone density leads to osteoporosis. About one in two women and one in four men will break a bone during their life because of this disease.

In terms of complications, a broken bone or fracture can put you at risk of getting arthritis later.

If a bone isn't realigned (put back into place) or repaired perfectly, it can cause more wear on a nearby joint. This increases your odds of getting arthritis in that joint.

Make an appointment for fractured or broken bone care

Request an appointment with a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon:

  • Fill out an appointment form online.
  • Call 1-866-987-6784.
(Video) Bone Fractures Types Nursing Interventions, Treatment, Signs and Symptoms NCLEX

Broken Bone and Fracture Symptoms and Diagnosis

Fractures and breaks aren't always plain to see.

(Video) Bone Fractures in Pediatrics | Nursing and NCLEX Review

For instance, if you break a bone in your arm, the cracked bone may be sore but not look broken.

What are the symptoms of a broken or fractured bone?

Some symptoms of a break or fracture include:

  • Sharp, stabbing pain that gets worse when you move the bone or with pressure.
  • Swelling, bruising, or tenderness at the injury site.
  • Not able to put weight on the area.
  • The arm or leg bends in an odd way or the bone sticks out through the skin. (If you ever see a bone sticking through the skin, go to the emergency room right away.)

How do you diagnose a broken bone or fracture?

Your doctor will first examine the injured area, assessing symptoms and things like range of motion. Your doctor will also ask questions about your medical history, including if you've broken bones before.

The standard way to diagnose fractures is through X-rays.

X-rays give a clear image of the bone. They can show where the break is and what type of break it is. Doctors who have trained to read X-rays can even spot tiny breaks on an X-ray.

But X-rays don't show soft tissues, like ligaments, tendons, or cartilage. They also can't show blood vessels or nerves. If your doctor thinks you might have other injuries related to the fracture, you may need an MRI.

If you've broken bones before, your doctor may look for clues about whether you have a health problem that causes weak bones.

Broken Bone and Fracture Treatment

A bone that is only cracked may need a splint or cast. If your bone is severely broken, doctors will pull it back into place before they put on a splint or cast. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medicine while you heal.

If you have a severe break, you can expect to have X-rays before and after treatment. You may even need follow-up X-rays.


Casts are the most common treatment for fractures. A cast helps keep the bone in the right position while it heals. Casts can be plaster or fiberglass, or made from waterproof materials.

Functional cast or brace

A functional case or brace, like a walking boot, allows some movement, but still helps support the fracture.


Rest is a treatment for fractures like rib fractures, which are harder to treat. Doctors often let these types of fractures heal on their own unless they cause other problems.

Bone fracture repair surgery

You may need surgery — or even “external fixation" — to repair:

  • Severe fractures.
  • Shattered bones.
  • Broken and deformed bones that go through the skin.

During external fixation surgery, your orthopaedic surgeon will attach a metal structure — similar to a cage — to the bone. After your bone heals, your surgeon will remove it.

Fractured and broken bone healing process

Your doctor will need to see you a few times for several weeks to check your broken bone or replace your cast. How long a cast stays on varies but can be anywhere from three to eight weeks (or longer for complex breaks).

After your doctor removes the splint or cast, you may feel some pain as you begin to move your joints again. This will improve over time. You may have swelling and bruising for several weeks after the cast or splint is off.

Your doctor may also prescribe exercises to help you regain the strength you lost while your bone was in a cast. Physical therapy is often helpful, especially for severe breaks.

Make an appointment for fractured or broken bone care

Request an appointment with a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon:

  • Fill out an appointment form online.
  • Call 1-866-987-6784.

Learn more about fractured or broken bones

The links below will open a new browser window.

UPMC's HealthBeat Blog:

(Video) Orthopaedics - fracture management

  • Open (Compound) Leg Fracture: Treatment and Recovery
  • What are Stress Fractures?
  • Malunion vs. Nonunion Fractures

From our Health Library:

  • Fracture
  • Finger, Wrist, and Hand Injuries
  • Toe, Foot, and Ankle Injuries
  • Cast Care Tips
  • Splint Care Tips

(Video) Types & Mechanism Of Fractures - Everything You Need To Know - Dr. Nabil Ebraheim

View More Conditions and Treatments for UPMC Orthopaedic Care


Bone Fractures and Broken Bones | UPMC Orthopaedic Care? ›

Call 1-866-987-6784.

What do orthopedics do for fractures? ›

Bone fracture surgical repair is performed when a broken bone can't heal properly with casting, splinting or bracing alone. The most common type of fracture surgery involves internal fixation, where broken pieces of bone are placed back in the right position using surgical screws, pins, rods, or plates.

What are the 4 R's of fracture management? ›

This consists of resuscitation, reduction, retention, and rehabilitation (4Rs). Resuscitation: Resuscitation is the topmost priority if the patient is in shock following a fracture.

What department will care for a person with broken bones? ›

If the X-ray shows a fracture, you will then be referred to an emergency department or orthopedic office for treatment.

Is a fracture considered orthopedic? ›

Common Orthopedic Injury Categories. Injuries that can occur in most joints of the body, include some of the following: Dislocations. Fractures.

What are 3 most important treatments in a fracture? ›

splints – to stop movement of the broken limb. braces – to support the bone. plaster cast – to provide support and immobilise the bone.

What is the best treatment for fractures? ›

  • Stop any bleeding. Apply pressure to the wound with a sterile bandage, a clean cloth or a clean piece of clothing.
  • Immobilize the injured area. Don't try to realign the bone or push a bone that's sticking out back in. ...
  • Apply ice packs to limit swelling and help relieve pain. ...
  • Treat for shock.

What are the 4 A's of fractures? ›

Sarah Malek, DVM, PhD, DACVS-SA (West Lafayette, IN), describes the 4 A's (apposition, alignment, apparatus, and activity) that are key in the post-op assessment and healing evaluation of a bone fracture.

What are the 5 stages of fracture healing? ›

  • Five Stages of Healing a Fracture.
  • First stage: Hematoma formation.
  • Second stage: Development of fibrocartilaginous callus.
  • Third Stage: Development of bony calluses.
  • Fourth Stage: Bone remodeling.
  • Fifth Stage: Bone support and recovery.
Jan 21, 2023

What are the 5 stages of fracture healing time? ›

However, these stages have considerable overlap.
  • Hematoma Formation (Days 1 to 5) This stage begins immediately following the fracture. ...
  • Fibrocartilaginous Callus Formation (Days 5 to 11) ...
  • Bony Callus Formation (Days 11 to 28) ...
  • Bone Remodelling (Day 18 onwards, lasting months to years)

How long can a broken bone go untreated? ›

If the fracture is not treated within four weeks, the patient will need a surgical correction. If left untreated entirely, the injury can become necrotic.

Does insurance cover broken bones? ›

Accident insurance typically covers hospital stays, emergency room visits, intensive care, ambulance rides, broken bones, physical therapy and a variety of other benefits.

What do hospitals do with broken bones? ›

Cast immobilization with a plaster or fiberglass cast. This is the most common treatment. Traction to reposition bone pieces using a gentle pulling action. External fixation, a surgery to place metal pins or screws in the pieces of bone.

What are the 5 orthopedic emergencies? ›

  • Vascular compromise.
  • Open fracture.
  • Neurologic deficit (cauda equina)
  • Compartment Syndrome.
  • Hip dislocation.
  • Osteomyelitis (septic arthritis)
  • Pelvic Fracture (unstable)

What is the difference between a fracture and a broken bone? ›

There is no difference between a bone fracture vs a break; they mean the same thing. When a bone has a hairline crack or is completely shattered it becomes weak. Your healthcare provider may call the injury either a broken bone or a fracture.

Is a broken bone and a fracture the same thing? ›

A fracture is a broken bone, the same as a crack or a break. A bone may be completely fractured or partially fractured in any number of ways (crosswise, lengthwise, in multiple pieces).

Which fracture is most damaging? ›

Comminuted fracture. Comminuted fractures are a more severe type of fracture, because your bone breaks into several pieces. You could have other damage with this type of fracture, due to the multiple bone shards.

What is the most difficult fracture to treat? ›

Compound Fracture

This is one of the most severe injuries: A compound or open fracture is when the bone pierces the skin when it breaks. Surgery is usually called for due to its severity and the risk of infection.

What is the most painful bone to break? ›

The Femur is often put at the top of the most painful bones to break. Your Femur is the longest and strongest bone in your body, running from your hip to your knee. Given its importance, it's not surprising that breaking this bone is an incredibly painful experience, especially with the constant weight being put on it.

What helps heal a fracture quicker? ›

In particular, calcium, vitamin D and protein will be important during the bone healing process, so be sure you're focusing on food sources rich in these nutrients, including dark, leafy greens, broccoli, fish, meat, yogurt, nuts and seeds.

Can a fracture heal without surgery? ›

Not all fractures requires surgery. In fact, whenever possible, non-surgical treatment is preferrable. Orthopaedic Trauma & Fracture Care specialists will make this decision based on the extent of the injury, the patient's overall health, and how well the fracture can be expected to heal without surgery.

Can a fracture heal on its own without surgery? ›

Eventually, the “threads” of the new bone tissue meet in the middle and “knit” together, and the bone is healed. This can take from a few months to a year. So, the answer to the central question of this blog is yes, fractured bones heal on their own.

What are the 6 P's fracture? ›

The six P's include: (1) Pain, (2) Poikilothermia, (3) Paresthesia, (4) Paralysis, (5) Pulselessness, and (6) Pallor.

Which injury should be immobilized without movement? ›

Immobilization is necessary for an orthopedic injury to heal properly. Injured bones, ligaments, tendons, and more will incur further damage if the affected areas aren't immobilized. Keeping the area from moving also helps reduce pain.

What is a Grade 5 fracture? ›

Type 5. This uncommon fracture occurs when the growth plate is crushed or compressed. The knee and ankle are most often involved. Fewer than 1 percent of Salter-Harris fractures are type 5. It's often misdiagnosed, and the damage can interfere with bone growth.

What slows down bone healing? ›

Limit Your Intake of Salt, Caffeine, Sweetened Beverages and Soda. Sodium, sugary drinks and colas can rob your bones of calcium, slowing bone mending. Caffeine also contains compounds that bind with calcium and prevent its absorption.

What is the fastest fracture healing time? ›

Most fractures heal in 6-8 weeks, but this varies tremendously from bone to bone and in each person based on many of the factors discussed above. Hand and wrist fractures often heal in 4-6 weeks whereas a tibia fracture may take 20 weeks or more.

What is the longest stage of fracture healing? ›

Remodelling phase (duration: months-years): This is the longest phase and may last for several years. During remodelling, the healed fracture and surrounding callus responds to activity, external forces, functional demands and growth.

Do you need more sleep with a broken bone? ›

Do You Need More Sleep When You Are Recovering from Injury? Yes, growth hormones need to be released in greater amounts when our body is healing from an injury. These hormones are released during the 'deep sleep' phase of your sleep cycle, which recurs approximately every 90 minutes.

How many days should you ice a broken bone? ›

Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down.

Is a fracture worse than a break? ›

Some people assume that fractured bones are more serious than broken bones, while others assume it's the other way around. But the truth is that these terms are used interchangeably, and they have the same meaning to medical professionals.

What happens if you wait too long to fix a broken bone? ›

When a bone fracture is untreated, it can result in either a nonunion or a delayed union. In the former case, the bone doesn't heal at all, which means that it will remain broken. As a result, swelling, tenderness, and pain will continue to worsen over time.

Do broken bones ache as they heal? ›

Sub-Acute Pain While the Bone is Healing

This takes a couple of weeks and is called subacute pain. You may still be on pain medication, but it may be a lower dosage or a weaker drug. Subacute pain is primarily caused by the lack of movement that was necessary to help the bone heal.

Is a broken bone considered a major injury? ›

Broken bones are very serious injuries that always require immediate medical attention. These kinds of injuries may require surgery and ongoing care to heal.

Does a broken bone count as a serious injury? ›

Fractures are more serious injuries and can take much longer to heal than bone bruises. If you've experienced a trauma and have pain on or near a bone, go to the emergency room or visit your provider as soon as possible. No matter which injury you have, it's important to get your bone examined right away.

Can you drive a car with a broken bone? ›

If you have a cast for a fractured leg, arm, hand or another injury, talk to your doctor about whether you can drive. Casts on your legs or feet can stop you from safely using the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals. If you have a cast on your arm or hand, you may still be able to drive.

Do all fractures need a cast? ›

Technically speaking, the answer to the question “can broken bones heal without a cast?” is yes. Assuming conditions are just right, a broken bone can heal without a cast. However, (and very importantly) it doesn't work in all cases. Likewise, a broken bone left to heal without a cast may heal improperly.

What types of broken bones need surgery? ›

Fractures that require surgery

For example, an open or comminuted fracture will require surgery to ensure that the bone fully grows back together and safely supports your weight. Surgical repair entails using metal rods, screws, or plates to set the bone in place or align it while it heals.

Do plates and screws stay in? ›

Plates are like internal splints that hold the broken pieces of bone together. They are attached to the bone with screws. Plates may be left in place after healing is complete, or they may be removed (in select cases). In this x-ray, broken bones in a forearm are held in position with plates and screws while they heal.

What is the most common orthopedic problem? ›

Lower back pain is one of the most common orthopedic issues. Almost everyone experiences back pain at some time in life. Often, it is mild and goes away after some time.

What are the 4 R's of Orthopaedics? ›

Resuscitate. Reduce (if displaced) – may be done by open reduction, closed manipulation or traction. Retain (to maintain position while healing occurs) – by internal fixation, external fixation or conservative methods. Rehabilitate.

What is a severe orthopedic injury? ›

Severe injury to one or more organs or tissues in the musculoskeletal system is considered orthopedic trauma. It is an injury affecting the joints, bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, or any of the related tissues and vessels.

What are 3 symptoms of a broken bone? ›

there may be swelling, bruising or tenderness around the injured area. you may feel pain when you put weight on the injury, touch it, press it, or move it. the injured part may look deformed – in severe breaks, the broken bone may be poking through the skin.

Can someone walk with a broken bone? ›

You usually will not be able to walk on it. If it's a severe fracture, the leg may be an odd shape and the bone may even be poking out of the skin. There may have been a "crack" sound when the leg was broken, and the shock and pain of breaking your leg may cause you to feel faint, dizzy or sick.

How long will a fracture hurt? ›

After about a week or two, the worst pain is usually over. What happens next is that the fractured bone and the surrounding soft tissue begin to heal. This takes a couple of weeks and the pain you might experience during this stage is called subacute pain. The last stage of pain is chronic pain.

Can a fracture heal in 2 weeks? ›

The healing time for a fracture depends upon a person's age, nutrition, overall health, and whether or not you smoke. The new bone forms within a few weeks of the injury, although complete healing can take longer. Typically a fracture can heal within 6-8 weeks.

How do you know if a fracture is not healing? ›

“Patients who suspect their fracture has not healed after treatment or is not healing properly should look out for three things: pain at the site, deformity – the bone was straight and now it's bent – and impaired use or function – leg or ankle still cannot support weight.

What are the 7 types of fractures? ›

Here is a listing of the common types that may happen:
  • Greenstick. This is an incomplete fracture. ...
  • Transverse. The break is in a straight line across the bone.
  • Spiral. The break spirals around the bone; common in a twisting injury.
  • Oblique. The break is diagonal across the bone.
  • Compression. ...
  • Comminuted. ...
  • Segmental.

What are the stages of fracture healing Orthopaedics? ›

There are three stages of bone healing: the inflammatory, reparative, and remodeling stages.

How soon should you see an orthopedic after a fracture? ›

If you suffer a fracture and visit an emergency room or urgent care center, visit an orthopedic doctor as soon as possible afterward. Emergency rooms and urgent care centers are great for emergencies and in situations when a specialist doctor is unavailable immediately.

Do orthopedics put on casts? ›

How Are Casts Put On? A health care provider such as an orthopedic surgeon , emergency room doctor, physician assistant , orthopedic technician, or nurse practitioner puts on the cast.

What are the 4 major stages of bone fracture treatment and repair? ›

Following the fracture, secondary healing begins, which consists of four steps:
  • Hematoma formation.
  • Fibrocartilaginous callus formation.
  • Bony callus formation.
  • Bone remodeling.

What is the rule for fracture healing time? ›

These features are : Pain Deformity Oedema Loss of Function Muscle Spasm Muscle Atrophy Abnormal Movement Limitation in Joint Range of Motion Shock When Is Fracture Healed[edit | edit source] The average time for bone healing is about 6-8 weeks, but can varies depending upon many factors; Local Factors The type of ...

What is the most important factor in fracture healing? ›

The most important factors in fracture healing are blood supply and soft-tissue health, and initial management of an injured limb should have the goal of maintaining or improving these.

What types of fractures are most difficult to repair? ›

Example: A comminuted fracture is the most difficult to repair due to the bone having fractured into numerous pieces. Multiple bone pieces require more effort to hold them together in the ideal position for healing.

Do you need physical therapy after breaking a bone? ›

Physical therapy is an important part of treatment for a bone broken bone. It is the best way to regain strength and function in the injured area. Your physical therapist can help you regain normal range of motion, strength and functional mobility after a broken bone.

Do you need physical therapy after a fracture? ›

The goal of physical therapy is to restore full range of motion and functionality. For hairline fractures, physical therapy is a good way to restore strength and flexibility; for more complex injuries physical therapy can be the key to learning how to become mobile again.

Why don t doctors use casts anymore? ›

But casts–and other treatments for arm and leg injuries– have changed over the years. For many fractures, casts still play a crucial role in the healing process. But for other injuries, orthopaedists are now opting for removable modern splints and boots that offer greater comfort and flexibility.

Is a splint better than a cast? ›

Splints, also known as half-casts, provide less support than casts, but are faster and easier to use. They also can be tightened or loosened easily if the swelling in the arm or leg increases or decreases.

What is the alternative to casts? ›

The disadvantages of traditional casting can be minimized by alternative management strategies: waterproof casts to facilitate bathing and swimming; a Pavlik harness in infants, a single-leg spica cast, or flexible intramedullary nails to avoid complications with double-leg spica casts for femur fractures; and braces ...

What helps bones heal quickly? ›

In particular, calcium, vitamin D and protein will be important during the bone healing process, so be sure you're focusing on food sources rich in these nutrients, including dark, leafy greens, broccoli, fish, meat, yogurt, nuts and seeds.


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5. Advanced Treatment for Fractures (Broken Bones) with Col (Dr) Adari, An Orthopedic Surgeon in Kenya.
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