A broken bone, or fracture, happens when excessive force applied to your bone causes it to break or shatter. Some fractures break the bone completely, while others just cause a crack in the bone. Fracture types vary depending on the circumstances of the injury and the amount of force applied to the bone.
Bones are very strong. Their design allows them to absorb pressure if you fall or you’re in an accident. But your bones can only absorb so much pressure before breaking. A broken bone commonly occurs for the following reasons:
- injury (accidental or intentional)
- falls from heights
- falls on ice or other unsafe surfaces
- overuse, particularly if you run or participate in sports
Osteoporosis is also a common cause of broken bones. This disease causes bones to weaken in older adults.
If you have a broken bone, you may feel pain in the bone or surrounding area. You may notice that the area is swollen. When the bone breaks, you might hear a popping or snapping sound. If the broken bone is in your arm or leg, the limb may bend at an unusual angle or look deformed. You may notice your skin appears bruised or is bleeding. If you have a compound fracture, part of the bone may protrude from the wound. It can be hard to move a broken bone and you might have trouble walking if the bone in your leg is broken.
The following first aid techniques can help stabilize a bone until you can reach the hospital:
- Ice the injury and elevate the injured area to reduce swelling.
- Gently clean the wound with soap and water to help prevent bacteria from entering the wound.
- Cover the wound with a bandage.
If the broken bone is in your arm or leg, a sling or splint will stop the injured area from moving and will keep the bone stable. You can use a rolled-up magazine or newspaper as a homemade splint.
If you have a possible broken upper leg, spine, pelvis, or hip, stay where you are until help arrives and don’t try to move the bone. Attempting to move it could cause more damage to the injured area.
When you reach the hospital, you’ll get an X-ray to determine if the bone is broken and to identify the type of fracture. The doctor will align your bone correctly before stabilizing it or placing it in a cast. If the bones aren’t aligned correctly, the injury won’t heal properly. If you have a broken bone that can’t be put in a cast, such as a broken collarbone, your doctor may recommend that you keep the bone still by using a sling or special bandage.
Many fractures and compound fractures require surgery. During surgery, your doctor might put pins, plates, screws, or wire cables in the bone to hold it together while it heals.
Healing can take weeks or months, depending on the type and severity of the break. Fractures in adults usually take a minimum of six weeks to heal, while a fracture in a child may heal faster. After the bone heals, you may need to perform exercises to strengthen muscles that you didn’t use while your bone was in a cast. Your doctor may suggest some exercises you can do at home. You may need to work with a physical therapist to strengthen your muscles and regain flexibility in your joints.