Bone Fractures and Broken Bones

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What Is a Bone Fracture?

A fractured or broken bone can be anything from a crack in a bone, to a bone that's separated or moved out of place.

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 naturally become less dense and weaker. This puts older adults at an increased risk of broken bones.

Broken bone complications

A broken bone or fracture can put you at risk of developing arthritis later.

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

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Broken Bone and Fracture Symptoms and Diagnosis

Fractures and breaks are not always obvious.

For example, if you fall and break a bone in your arm, the bone may be cracked and sore but doesn't look broken.

Broken or fractured bone symptoms

Some symptoms of a break or fracture include:

  • Sharp, stabbing pain
  • Swelling
  • Deformity
  • Tenderness at the site of the injury
  • Bruising

Broken bone and fracture diagnosis

Even if you have an obvious break, your doctor will need to take an x-ray of the area to see how much damage has occurred.

Your doctor will also ask questions about your medical history, including if you've had any broken bones before.

If you have had more than one broken bone, your doctor may look for clues about whether you have a condition that causes weak bones.

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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 need to manipulate or pull it back into place before they put on a splint or cast.

The cast or splint will keep the injured bone from moving while it heals. Your doctor may also prescribe pain medicine while you heal.

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

Some breaks — such as rib fractures — are harder to treat. Often, doctors allow these types of fractures to heal on their own unless they cause other problems.

Fractured and broken bone healing process

You will need to visit your doctor a few times for several weeks so he or she can check your broken bone or replace your cast.

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.

Your doctor may also prescribe certain exercises to help you regain the strength you lost while your bone was in a cast.

Bone fracture repair surgery

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

  • Severe fracture
  • Shattered bone
  • Broken and deformed bone that protrudes 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.

Make an appointment for fractured or broken bone treatment

Request an appointment with a UPMC orthopaedic surgeon:

Learn more about fractured or broken bone treatment

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UPMC's HealthBeat Blog:

UPMC Patient Education Materials:

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