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Be Careful. Every Bone Can Break

Derk C. RIETVELD, Chief of Sports Medicine;
Shoulder, Knee, Ankle Surgeon

Every bone can break!

Most fractures are caused by an injury (such as a distortion or twist during sports). A bone fracture can also be caused by a tumor (called a pathological fracture) or as the result of osteoporosis. Older people break bones more often, especially the hip or wrist.

Types of Bone Fractures

There are two types of bone fractures.

  • Closed fracture: With this type of fracture, the bone does not go through the skin.
  • Open or complicated fractures: With these fractures, the bone punctures the skin. These fractures are more serious because there is risk of infection, as well as potential damage to blood vessels and nerves.

Open and Closed Fractures – Shape and Pattern

  • Transverse fracture: The bone is broken straight through. This often occurs in the long bones of the arms or legs as the result of a very hard hit.
  • Spiral fracture: Also called an oblique fracture, this type is usually caused by a sudden rotational movement, such as movements made during a fall. Spiral fractures usually occur in the bones of the arms and legs.
  • Greenstick fracture: Occurs when the bone of a child’s arm or leg breaks, but the outside (cortex) stays intact.
  • Communitive fracture: The bone is broken into several small pieces. These fractures usually result from a severe direct injury. The risk of damage to the soft tissue surrounding the fracture is high.
  • Avulsion fracture: Occurs when a small piece of bone has been torn off or the bone tears off a tendon attachment.
  • Compression fracture: With a compression fracture, depressions of spongy bone form, such as in the bones of the spine. You are at greater risk of compression fracture if you suffer from osteoporosis or limb disorder.

Another type of fracture is the stress fracture, which results from prolonged repeated stress on the bone. This condition is often found in the feet of long-distance runners (known as march fractures). In the elderly, fractures can occur, for example, by frequent coughing that leads to a broken rib.


X-rays will be taken of the affected body part to determine the type of fracture. Multiple or complicated fractures may require a CT scan or MRI. If a fracture develops without a clear cause, then it is necessary to determine whether the bones are weaker due to disease.


Bone pieces that have been moved will first be returned to their normal place. This is also called repositioning. Depending on the location and severity of the fracture, this is performed under local or general anesthesia, without surgery (closed reposition) or with an operation (open reposition).


In adults, it will take about six to eight weeks for a fracture to heal. In children, it is usually much faster, and a baby can heal in as fast as two weeks.

What should you do if you think you have an injury and maybe a fracture?

You should go to a hospital equipped with an emergency department, ICU, imaging capabilities such as X-ray, CT and MRI ,and medical doctors that are specialized in fractures. Shanghai United Family Hospital is one such comprehensive hospital. The orthopedic and sports medicine team has specialized orthopedic surgeons who are experts in fracture diagnosis and treatment.