Bone fractures

A fracture is a crack or break in a bone. It results from the application of excessive force through injuries, such as a fall or a hard blow.

Up to the age of 50, more men suffer from fractures than women because of occupational hazards. However, after the age of 50, more women suffer fractures than men because of osteoperosis. Simple, or closed, fractures are not obvious on the surface because the skin remains intact. Compound, or open, fractures break through the skin, exposing bone. They are generally more serious than closed fractures.

When bones are broken, there may be an accompanying soft tissue injury or an infection either in the surrounding tissue or the bone itself. If an artery is damaged, there can be a significant loss of blood. Single and multiple fractures refer to the number of breaks in the same bone. Fractures are termed complete if the break is completely through the bone, and described as incomplete, or greenstick, if the fracture occurs partly across a bone shaft. This latter type of fracture is often the result of bending or crushing on the bone. A stress fracture is usually a small break in the bone due to repeated or prolonged force.

Causes & symptoms

Fractures usually result from an injury to a bone that causes the bone tissue or cartilage to be disrupted or broken. Bones weakened by disease or misuse will be more likely to break. In some women who have gone through menopause, the bones fracture easily due to osteoperosis. This is because the body produces less estrogen at that time of life, and estrogen is a major regulator of bone density through its effects on calcium in the body.

Moderate exercise and weight training is helpful in building and maintaining strong bones; so, the bones of an inactive person may also tend to fracture easier than those who are moderately active. However, individuals with a very high activity level have a greater risk of fractures. This group includes children and athletes participating in contact sports.

Because bones start to thin out with the aging process, the elderly are also at a high risk of sustaining a fracture. Diseases that may lead to an increased risk of fractures include Paget’s disease, rickets, osteogenesis imperfecta, osteoporosis, tumors, deficiencies of vitamins A or D, and stroke induced paralysis.

Fractures usually begin with intense pain and swelling at the site of injury. Obvious deformities, such as a crooked or otherwise misshapen limb, point to a possible fracture. Pain that prevents the use of a limb may also indicate a break. In severe fractures, there may be a loss of pulses below the fracture site and a resultant numbness, tingling, or paralysis in the feet, hands, fingers, or toes below the site. An open fracture is often accompanied by bleeding or bruising. If a leg is fractured, there will usually be difficulty bearing weight on it. If there is dizziness, sweating, disorientation, or thirst, the onset of shock may be indicated.

Types of bone fractures
Types of bone fractures


Diagnosis begins immediately with the individual’s own observation of symptoms. A thorough medical history and physical exam completed by a physician often provides enough information to determine if further testing is necessary. An x ray of the injured area is most commonly used to determine the presence of a bone fracture.

However, it is important to note that not all fractures are apparent on an initial x ray. Rib fractures are often difficult to diagnose and may require several views at different angles. If the fracture is open and occurs in conjunction with soft tissue injury, further laboratory studies may have to be done.

In the event of stress fractures, a tuning fork can provide a simple, inexpensive test. The tuning fork is a metal instrument with a stem and two prongs that vibrate when struck. If a patient has increased pain when the tuning fork is placed on the bone, such as the lower leg bone or shinbone, the likelihood of a stress fracture is high. Bone scans also are helpful in detecting stress fractures or other difficult-to-detect fractures.


Prevention is the most effective way to avoid fractures. Wearing protective gear, such as a helmet, or using protective equipment, such as safety gear, while playing sports may greatly reduce the risk of a fracture.

A daily multivitamin and mineral supplement (for instance, containing calcium, magnesium, boron, strontium) is recommended to help build and maintain a healthy, resilient skeleton. These, together with an adequate protein intake, will also help rebuild the bone and surrounding tissue. Some physical therapists use electrostimulation over a fractured site to promote and expedite healing.

Chinese traditional medicine seeks to reconnect the qi through the meridian lines along the line of a fracture. Homeopathy can enhance the body’s healing process. A particularly useful homeopathic remedy for soft tissue is Arnica 12c, taken every 10 minutes for the first two hours after injury, and then once every eight hours for two to three days. Symphytum officinalis is also a good remedy to help heal the fractured bone.

Calming herbs are often useful for relief of pain and tension. Cups of chamomile (Matricaria recutitca), catnip (Nepeta cataria), or lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) tea can be given freely for a calming effect. Fifteen drops of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), or valerian (Valeriana officinalis) tincture can be given every half hour as needed.

A tea to encourage the bone tissue to knit and heal can be made by mixing together one ounce each of comfrey leaves (Symphytum officinale), nettles (Urtica dioica), and oatstraw (Avena sativa), plus half an ounce each of horsetail, skullcap, and marsh mallow root (Althaea officinalis). One quarter ounce each of fennel seeds (Foeniculum officinalis) and peppermint leaves (Mentha piperita) should also be added.

A strong tea should be made of one ounce of the mixture in one quart of boiling water, which should steep for at least a half hour. The dosage is two cups taken daily. Frequent soaks or compresses with comfrey root in the water is recommended if there is no broken skin. Arnica montana, Calendula officinalis, St. John’s wort, or comfrey salves or ointments can improve healing when applied externally, as well.

After initial treatments, the application of contrast hydrotherapy to a hand or foot below the area of the fracture can be used to assist healing by enhancing circulation. Contrast hydrotherapy uses an alternating series of hot and cold water applications. Either compresses or basins of water may be used. First, hot compress is applied for three minutes. It is followed by cold water for 30 seconds. These applications are repeated three times each, ending with the cold water.

Allopathic treatment

Broken bones need to be treated as soon as possible by a physician. Temporary measures include applying ice packs to injured areas, and the use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) to reduce pain and swelling. Initial first aid for a fracture may include splinting, control of blood loss, and monitoring of vital signs, such as breathing and circulation. Medical treatment will depend on the location of the fracture, its type and severity, and the individual’s age and general health status. If an open fracture is accompanied by serious soft tissue injury, it may be necessary to control bleeding and the shock that can accompany it.

Immobilization of the fracture site can be done internally or externally. The primary goal of immobilization is to maintain the realignment of the bone long enough for healing to start and progress. Immobilization by external fixation uses splints, casts, or braces; this may be the primary and only procedure for fracture treatment. Splinting to immobilize a fracture can be done with or without traction.

In emergency situations, splinting is a useful form of fracture management, if medical care is not immediately available. It should be done without causing additional pain and without moving the bone segments. In a clinical environment, plaster of Paris casts are used for immobilization. Braces are useful as they often allow movement above and below the fracture site.

Open reduction is surgery that is usually performed by an orthopedist. It allows the surgeon to examine and correct soft tissue damage while the bones are being repositioned into their normal alignment. Internal fixation devices, such as metal screws, plates, and pins, hold the bones in place as they heal.

Fragments are often held together with metal rods. Later, the physician may or may not elect to remove these devices when healing is complete. Open reduction is most often used for open, severe, or comminuted fractures. Fractures with little or no displacement of the bones do not usually require such surgery.

Closed reduction refers to realigning the bones without using surgery. It is accomplished by manually adjusting the bones or using traction, and often requires the use of an anesthetic. Traction is a form of closed reduction that works by applying a steady force to the bones, pulling on them with weights until the proper alignment is achieved. The traction device can also be used to immobilize the affected area while the bone heals. Since traction restricts movement, this treatment means that the patient will be confined to bed rest for an extended period of time.

In external fixation, pins or screws are attached to the bone directly above and below the site of the fracture. They are then connected to a device of metal bars fixed over the skin. These act as a frame, keeping the bones aligned so they can heal properly. With any type of treatment for a fracture, muscle and joint strength and flexibility should be maintained through proper exercises done as the bone tissue heals.

Healing time for fractures varies from person to person, with the elderly generally needing more time to heal completely. Recovery is complete when there is no bone motion at the fracture site, and x rays indicate complete healing.

Expected results

Fractures can normally be cured with proper first aid and after care. Proper realignment of the bones is much more difficult if the break has occurred more than six hours in the past. If broken bones are not properly treated, deformities may occur as the bones heal, and strength and flexibility may be affected.


Adequate calcium intake, as well as intakes of other minerals like magnesium, boron, strontium, and others, is necessary for strong bones and can help decrease the risk of fractures. Foods rich in calcium should be eaten. These include fish, dairy products, sardines, broccoli, enriched soymilk, seaweed, tahini, and other sesame seed foods, nuts, molasses, and dark leafy green vegetables.

Calcium supplements may be also be useful; however, those with bone meal or oyster shell have been found to often contain toxic heavy metals. Adequate stores of vitamin D are needed to help use calcium, therefore, some time should be spent in the sun, as this will activate vitamin D and help decrease fractures.

Safety measures to avoid accidents that may bring on fractures include wearing seat belts and protective sports gear, when appropriate. Estrogen replacement combined with exercise and weight training for women past the age of 50 has been shown to help prevent osteoporosis and the fractures that may result from this condition.