What Is a Broken Bone?

A broken bone, also called a fracture , is when a break goes through part or all of a bone.

How Do Broken Bones Happen?

Common causes of broken bones in teens include falls, accidents, and sports mishaps.

What Are the Kinds of Broken Bones?

Types of bone fractures include:

  • Avulsion fracture: when a tendon or ligament pulls off of a tiny piece of bone
  • Growth plate fracture: a break in the area of a growing bone
  • Stress fracture: a tiny crack in the bone
  • Comminuted fracture: a bone breaks into more than two pieces
  • Compression fracture: a collapsing of the bone

Kids' bones are more likely to bend than break completely because they're softer. Fracture types that are more common in kids include:

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Broken Bone?

The signs of a fracture depend on the type of break an the bone affected. It always hurts to break a bone. There also might be swelling and bruising. The injured area may be hard to move and use.

Sometimes there's a deformity — this means that the body part looks crooked or different than it did before the injury.

How Are Broken Bones Diagnosed?

Doctors order X-rays if they think a bone is broken. An X-ray usually can show if there is a break, where it is, and the type of break.

How Are Broken Bones Treated?

Doctors treat most broken bones with a cast, splint, or brace. This keeps the broken bone from moving while it heals. Even broken bones that don't line up (called displaced) often will heal straight over time.

Sometimes the displaced bones are put back in place before the cast, splint, or brace is put on. This is done through a procedure called a reduction. This is also called "setting the bone."

The two types of reductions are:

  • A closed reduction. This is done in the emergency room or operating room, after the person gets medicine to ease the pain. The surgeon moves the bones back into the right position. No incision (cut) is needed.
  • An open reduction. This surgery is done for a more complicated injury. It happens in the operating room under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes a cut and moves the bones into the right position. Surgical plates, screws, or wires might keep the bones in place.

How Do Bones Heal?

In the first few days after a fracture, the body forms a blood clot (or hematoma ) around the broken bone. This protects the bone and delivers the cells needed for healing.

Then, an area of healing tissue forms around the broken bone. This is called a callus . It joins the broken bones together. It's soft at first, then gets harder and stronger over the following weeks.

New bone forms in the weeks to months after a break, but full healing can take longer.

How Can I Feel Better?

As you recover from a broken bone, make sure to:

  • eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D
  • take good care of the cast or splint
  • follow the health care provider's directions for rest and/or doing any exercises
  • go to all follow-up appointments

Looking Ahead

Broken bones are a pretty common injury. With the right treatment, a broken bone usually heals well. Follow your health care provider's recommendations, and soon you'll be back to all the activities you did before the injury.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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