I’ve been asked many times, “Is it fractured or did I just break it?” To which the answer is the same, you did both. A fracture is a break and a break is a fracture. Fractures can be separated into simple and compound fractures. A simple fracture is one that doesn’t break through the skin while a compound (open) fracture does.
Every bone in the body can be broken, but some based on their location are more prone to fracture than others. Kids and adults can break bones, but kids bones generally heal faster and require surgery less often, because they have an outer layer of bone called the periosteum which helps keep the bones aligned when broken and increase healing potential.
Most people with a fracture are seen initially in an urgent care or emergency department where x-rays and possibly a CT scan are performed to diagnose the injury. The patient is triaged and if the fracture appears to be a type that may need urgent or emergent surgery, I, as the orthopedic surgeon on call, will be called in to evaluate. If it is a fracture that can either be treated without surgery or have delayed (outpatient) surgery then the patient will be splinted up or placed into a sling by the treating physician and follow-up with me in clinic to discuss next steps.
Bones take 6-8 weeks to heal. The only people who may heal faster than that are children. Adults never heal faster than the standard, but there are risk factors that can lead to slower than normal bone healing. Some risk factors that may lead to delayed healing are smoking, diabetes, and poor nutrition.
- How can I help my bones heal? Vitamin D (5000 IU/day) and Calcium (800 mg/day) are vital for bone health. With our modern sedentary lifestyle and sunscreen use, many people are Vitamin D deficient as Vitamin D comes from sun exposure to the skin. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium to be absorbed in the gut.
- Do I need surgery? This is a decision individualized based on a discussion about your specific fracture, its location, and type.
- Are some fractures worse than others? All fractures are painful, but fractures that go into any joint (intra-articular) are considered worse and tolerate less displacement because they can accelerate joint arthritis if not treated with realignment and fixation.