A bone fracture is a break in a bone. The soft tissue surrounding the
break may also be injured. Most bone fractures are the result of injuries
from falls or vehicle crashes, but fractures can also be caused by certain
diseases. The May 5, 2004, issue of JAMA includes
an article about external fixation (see below) to
treat bone fractures.
Injuries from falls, sports, or vehicle crashes
Osteoporosis—weakening of the bones associated
Tumors that grow on or near bones
Prolonged walking or running—sometimes called
Simple—the bone is broken in one place.
Comminuted—the bone is broken in several
places with at least 3 bone fragments.
Open—the skin is injured exposing the broken
bone (also called "compound").
Closed—the skin is intact over the broken
Undisplaced—the broken bone pieces are aligned.
Displaced—the broken bone pieces are not
If you think you have broken a bone, seek emergency
medical care immediately.
A medical examination and x-rays can help determine
if and where a bone is broken.
The broken pieces may need to be put back in place
and then immobilized until the bones can heal as new bone forms around the
The type of treatment will depend on the kind of
fracture and the specific bones involved.
Fractured bones usually need at least 4 weeks to
heal although casts may be removed before that to prevent stiffness (particularly
for fractures involving the elbow or hand).
Physical therapy may be required after the bone
Casting—After the broken bones have been
manipulated back into their proper positions, a plaster or fiberglass cast
is applied to keep the bones from moving while they heal.
External fixation—Pins or wires are set into
the bone through the skin above and below the fracture. These are connected
to a ring or a bar outside the skin that holds the pins in place. After the
bones have healed, the pins are removed.
Internal fixation—In a surgical procedure,
metal rods, wires, or screws are inserted in the bone fragments to keep them
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons 800/346-AAOS
National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and
Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center 800/624-BONE (2663)http://www.osteo.org
To find this and other JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link
on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com.
A Patient Page on hip fractures was published in the June 6, 2001, issue;
and one on preventing hip fractures was published in the October 13, 1999,
Sources: National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone
Diseases National Resource Center, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons,
American Association of Orthopaedic Medicine
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page
are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical
diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page
may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals
to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject
to AMA approval. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
TOPIC: BONE FRACTURES
Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. Bone Fractures. JAMA. 2004;291(17):2160. doi:10.1001/jama.291.17.2160