The 10 Most Common Types of Fractures: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
From a physical point of view, fractures are defined as the separation of an object or material into two or more pieces under the action of some form of stress. This “stress” refers to mechanical stress, a quantifiable quantity that represents the force per unit area exerted on a surface.
Consequently, a bone fracture can be defined as a partial or complete break in the continuity of a bone. In general, these breaks are caused by falls, accidents, sports injuries, and other external forces, but there are diseases that can greatly facilitate their appearance, such as osteoporosis.
In the event of a fracture, it’s necessary to seek medical help as soon as possible, even though the patient’s life is not always immediately at risk. If you want to get to know the 10 types of fractures, symptoms, and the risks involved, then read on.
Knowing the world of fractures
As indicated by the United States National Library of Medicine, a fracture is defined as a break in the bone. This can be caused by a blow of great force or a minimal trauma, and is more likely if you have certain progressive debilitating diseases of the skeletal system.
From a clinical point of view, the fracture is defined in two different ways:
- Open: Those in which there’s communication between the affected bone and the outside, as a consequence of an accompanying injury to the epidermis and external tissues in the injured area. This means that the bone is visible outside of the muscle and skin.
- Closed: The tip of the fracture is not associated with a break in the skin. The broken bone or the wound doesn’t communicate in any way with the outside, that is, the injury isn’t visible to the naked eye.
There are many more ways to classify fractures. For example, according to the MBA Surgical Empowerment portal, the type of bone rupture can take many forms: transverse, oblique, butterfly-wing, spiroid, segmental, parcel, and many more.
General clinical signs of a fracture
When a bone fracture occurs, then an external agent, endowed with a certain energy and impulse, causes stresses that exceed the resistance of the bone itself. The bone then breaks, with varying degrees of severity. The MSD Manuals portal shows us some of the general symptoms of a fracture. They are as follows:
- Pain: This increases when the patient tries to move the limb or the affected area.
- Swelling: This occurs as part of the body’s natural response to injury. Acute swelling is an immune system response that occurs after a contusion.
- Hematomas: When the small blood vessels are broken as a result of a contusion, hematomas appear.
- Deformity: The affected limb or area may look out of place.
- Internal bleeding: When this happens, the medical condition can be quite severe. This can trigger hypovolemic shock, in which loss of blood by the patient prevents the heart from working properly. Shock often leads to multi-organ failure.
The 10 most common types of fractures
There are many different types of fractures, according to the angle of rupture, the damage incurred by the soft tissues, the force that causes them, and their possible causes, among other things. Even so, we’re not really interested in talking about geometric shapes, angles, and physical peculiarities.
What we’re going to do is show you the 10 most important types of fractures based on where they occur. This is the most important informative parameter, as a head injury is completely different to a broken wrist.
1. Skull fracture
Studies show that, in high-income countries, traumatic injuries are the leading cause of death in people under 45 years of age. Of all of them, skull fractures and head injuries are responsible for half of them. Although it may not seem like it, many of these minor injuries can cause a number of complications in the long term.
Even if the injury occurs in bone tissue, the force of the blow can cause damage to the brain, something we know as a contusion. Some of the symptoms of a skull fracture are as follows, indicated by the United States National Library :
- Bleeding through the wound, ears, nose, mouth, or around the eyes.
- Loss of consciousness: This is more common in people who suffer a concussion on the left side of the brain, compared to those who have it on the right.
- Changes in the appearance of the pupils.
- Confusion, seizures, and trouble keeping your balance. This is a sign that some part of the brain has been affected.
Worldwide, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of lost years of life. As you can see, a blow to the head can be fatal. People who incur one require urgent treatment and possible multidisciplinary rehabilitation.
2. Vertebra fracture
According to the University of Navarra Clinic (CUN), vertebral fractures are usually caused by trauma of a certain intensity, although they are also the result of degenerative diseases in the bone tissue that pan out in the long term, such as osteoporosis. An acute fracture is usually treated conservatively, although surgery is never ruled out.
In general, the patient may be asymptomatic when lying down or at rest, but things get complicated when they stand up and begin to walk, and even more so if they make any physical effort that involves the spine. Some of the symptoms of this condition are the following:
- Back or lumbar pain: Low back pain is one of the most common conditions worldwide, affecting 9 out of 10 people at least once at some point in their lives, approximately.
- Symptoms due to nerve involvement: If the nerves of the spinal cord or any of the 31 pairs of spinal nerves are involved, some body structures may fail.
- The inability to perform daily activities.
In mild cases, conservative treatment is usually chosen: pain relievers, heat, rest, and other measures. If this pain persists for weeks or months, surgical intervention may be required.
3. Hip fracture
90% of hip fractures occur in patients over 65 years of age. In some countries, it’s estimated that there are 503 cases / 10 ^ 5 inhabitants/year, 74% of them being women. Unfortunately, this is a serious, life-threatening injury.
The danger increases as a person ages, as osteoporosis and the loss of balance associated with old age are a breeding ground for a hip fracture to occur. After a fall, some of the symptoms that the patient experiences are the following:
- The inability to walk or get up
- Intense pain in the hip
- A total inability to carry weight
- A shorter limb on the side of the injured hip
- Bruising and swelling spread over the affected area
The results are startling: studies estimate that up to 33% of elderly people who suffer a hip fracture end up dying within the first year after the fracture. Of course, we must qualify this because we can also assume that the patient’s state of health is already delicate before the event.
4. Rib fracture
Rib fracture occurs when one of the bones of the rib cage breaks or cracks. This usually produces characteristic pain in the patient when taking a deep breath, pressing on the injured area, or when bending or turning the body. The most common cause of this event, as you can imagine, is direct trauma.
Most rib fractures heal on their own in a matter of weeks, yet there are risks to consider. For example, a total detachment of one of them can cause it to dig into the lungs, causing a fatal perforation.
5. Clavicle fracture
From now on, we’ll go a little faster, as we’re now talking about fractures that are decreasing in medical importance, at least from an informative point of view. The clavicle is a flat bone located in the anteroposterior part of the thorax in humans. This fracture is very common in children and young adults, due to their tendency to take more risks.
As indicated by the Mayo Clinic, this event produces severe shoulder pain, swelling, increased sensitivity, bruising, and abnormal bumps near the shoulder. Treatment is usually based on plaster casts and analgesics although, if there’s a potential epidermal rupture, surgery is required.
6. Femur fracture
A femoral fracture, as its name suggests, occurs when the femur, the thigh bone that runs from the hip to the knee, breaks. This causes immediate and severe pain and a complete inability to use the injured limb. In almost all cases, surgery is necessary.
7. Patella fracture
The patella is a small, round bone that sits on the front of the knee joint. If you have a minor fracture, reducing physical activities may be sufficient, although a cast is often necessary.
8. Fracture of the sternum
The sternum is a thoracic bone found in the anterior portion of the chest, and is closely related to the ribs. The danger of this fracture doesn’t lie in the breaking of the bone per se, but in the possibility that the bone splinters could cause cardiac or pulmonary perforations. As you can imagine, the prognosis in these cases is fatal.
9. Fracture of the tibia
In some cases of tibial plateau fracture, joint effusion in the knees, soft tissue swelling, and inability to bear weight are likely to develop.
10. Other types of fractures
Things are becoming pretty clear now! An adult skeleton is made up of 206 bones, and all (or almost all) are subject to possible fractures. Here’s s a list of bones that can break relatively frequently:
- Carpus and metacarpus
- Tarsus and metatarsus
A fracture is a partial or complete break in the bone. We’ve shown you the most significant cases but, as you may have seen, these are by no means the only ones. However, when it comes to seriousness, hip and skull fractures take the prize.
In the event of any type of fracture, no matter how slight, it’s always advisable to go to see the emergency services. You never know how the injury might progress, and prevention is always better than cure.
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- Negrete-Corona, J., Alvarado-Soriano, J. C., & Reyes-Santiago, L. A. (2014). Fractura de cadera como factor de riesgo en la mortalidad en pacientes mayores de 65 años. Estudio de casos y controles. Acta ortopédica mexicana, 28(6), 352-362.