A bone fracture (sometimes abbreviated FRX or Fx, Fx, or #) is a medical condition in which there is a break in the continuity of thebone. A bone fracture can be the result of high force impact or stress, or trivial injury as a result of certain medical conditions that weaken the bones, such as osteoporosis, bone cancer, or osteogenesis imperfecta, where the fracture is then properly termed apathologic fracture.
Although broken bone and bone break are common colloquialisms for a bone fracture, break is not a formal orthopedic term.
Signs and symptoms
Although bone tissue itself contains no nociceptors, bone fracture is painful for several reasons:
- Breaking in the continuity of the periosteum, with or without similar discontinuity in endosteum, as both contain multiple nociceptors.
- Edemaof nearby soft tissues caused by bleeding of torn periosteal blood vessels evokes pressure pain.
- Muscle spasmstrying to hold bone fragments in place
Damage to adjacent structures such as nerves or vessels, spinal cord and nerve roots (for spine fractures), or cranial contents (for skull fractures) can cause other specific signs and symptoms.
The natural process of healing a fracture starts when the injured bone and surrounding tissues bleed, forming a fracture hematoma. The blood coagulates to form a blood clotsituated between the broken fragments. Within a few days blood vessels grow into the jelly-like matrix of the blood clot. The new blood vessels bring phagocytes to the area, which gradually remove the non-viable material. The blood vessels also bring fibroblasts in the walls of the vessels and these multiply and produce collagen fibres. In this way the blood clot is replaced by a matrix of collagen. Collagen’s rubbery consistency allows bone fragments to move only a small amount unless severe or persistent force is applied.
At this stage, some of the fibroblasts begin to lay down bone matrix in the form of collagen monomers. These monomers spontaneously assemble to form the bone matrix, for which bone crystals (calcium hydroxyapatite) are deposited in amongst, in the form of insoluble crystals. This mineralization of the collagen matrix stiffens it and transforms it into bone. In fact, bone is a mineralized collagen matrix; if the mineral is dissolved out of bone, it becomes rubbery. Healing bone callus is on average sufficiently mineralized to show up on X-ray within 6 weeks in adults and less in children. This initial “woven” bone does not have the strong mechanical properties of mature bone. By a process of remodeling, the woven bone is replaced by mature “lamellar” bone. The whole process can take up to 18 months, but in adults the strength of the healing bone is usually 80% of normal by 3 months after the injury.
Several factors can help or hinder the bone healing process. For example, any form of nicotine hinders the process of bone healing, and adequate nutrition (including calcium intake) will help the bone healing process. Weight-bearing stress on bone, after the bone has healed sufficiently to bear the weight, also builds bone strength. Although there are theoretical concerns about NSAIDs slowing the rate of healing, there is not enough evidence to warrant withholding the use of this type analgesic in simple fractures.
Effects of smoking
Smokers generally have lower bone density than non-smokers, so have a much higher risk of fractures. There is also evidence that smoking delays bone healing. Some research indicates, for example, that it delays tibial shaft fracture healing from a median healing time of 136 to a median healing time of 269 days.This means that the fracture healing time was approximately doubled in smokers. Although some other studies show less extreme effects, it is still shown that smoking delays fracture healing