Bone fractures – when you break a bone
fracture; haematoma; cast; healing; broken; bones;
Your bones are very strong and can almost always stand up to the pressure you put on them when you are running, falling, crashing into things and all the other things that happen when you are busy adding to your collection of bruises!
Your bones can even bend a little and come back straight again.
Sometimes, however, the pressure is all too much and you break a bone. The medical name for a broken bone is a fracture.
Usually the parts of the body where the bones get broken are the arms or legs, but a bad fall or a road crash can cause fractures to other parts of the body such as the skull or spine.
Types of fractures
Doctors describe fractures in several different ways.
Kids are more likely to have one of the following types of fracture.
- Greenstick fracture - where a child's bone bends and cracks, but doesn't break right across.
- Simple fracture – where the bone breaks cleanly in one place.
- Compound fracture - where the skin over the fracture is damaged.
What does it feel like to break a bone?
How much it hurts can depend on where the fracture is and how your body reacts.
Your brain will be getting messages from all over your body, not just the site of the break, so you may have several different things you could notice:
- a lot of pain around where the bone is broken
- feeling cold and shivery
- not being able to move that part of the body
- the limb looks deformed or different in some way
- some people feel sick or vomit
- some people pass out
- some people cry
- some people don't feel any pain for a while.
Our topic on First aid - broken bones will give you some tips on what to do to help yourself or your friend if there is no adult around.
How your body heals fractures
Your amazing body will quickly swing into action to start healing your broken bone.
Inside your bone there are blood vessels. When the bone breaks blood leaks out and forms a clot called a fracture haematoma (say frak-cher heem-a-toma). This helps to keep the bone in place and keep the pieces lined up so that they can mend.
The area around the fracture swells up due to the bleeding around the place where the bone is broken. Cells in the fracture haematoma begin getting rid of dead and damaged tissue while other cells start to help your bone heal.
Within days the fracture haematoma starts to become a tougher tissue called a soft callus. Special cells make fine threads of collagen while others make fibrocartilage. The callus gets stronger, changing into a fibro-cartilaginous callus (say fi-bro-car-ti-la-jin-us) and starts to bridge the gap between the pieces of bone. (It's a bit like a spider spinning a web, the more threads it spins the stronger the web grows.)
Now other cells move in and start to make bone cells which make the callus much harder and more able to hold the pieces of the bone in place as it goes into the final stage of healing. It's now become a bone callus.
The body has now fixed the bone's position. Over the next months the bone callus is gradually replaced by harder bone, and blood circulation in the bone improves. For several months there is a lump around the fracture but this slowly changes so that eventually the bone usually becomes the same shape as it was before it was broken.
Your body needs help
Yes, your body can heal broken bones, but you need to see a doctor because the bone pieces may not be lined up properly so the bone may heal in a bent position.
Your doctor will:
- take an x-ray to see whether the bone is broken and whether the pieces of the bone are lined up properly, or whether they need to be pulled back into the right position. If the pieces of the bone are not in the right position the doctor will give you an anaesthetic so that you don't feel pain while the bone pieces are being moved into the right position.
- put on a cast to hold the bones still. This might be plaster or sometimes plastic
- give you something to help manage pain.
In very bad breaks it may be necessary to have an operation to put metal rods or plates into the body to hold the bone pieces together.
Things to know
- When you have a cast on your arm or leg you will need to keep it dry when you have a shower or a bath.
- Rest the limb as much as possible to help your body heal.
- Having a cast can be itchy and uncomfortable for a while but it is very important not to push something under the cast to try to stop the itching.
- You will need more x rays to check on how the bone is joining together.
- You will need to have the cast on for 4 to 6 weeks or longer.
- The cast is keeping your limb still so this means that the muscles around the break will get weaker. After the cast is taken off you will be given some exercises to do, and you may need to go to a physiotherapist for special treatment for a while until your arm or leg is strong again.
Some people like to keep their casts afterwards because their friends have all written their names or messages on it. (Not as bad as keeping your tonsils or appendix in a jar I suppose. Yuckee!)
Facts about fractures
- The most common fractures are to the wrist as it is a natural reaction to put out our hands to protect ourselves when we fall over.
- Kids have more falls than adults, but young bones do not fracture easily.
- Kid's bones heal faster and more completely than adults.
- People over 75 years old are more likely than younger people to break hip bones. The reason is that their bones are not so strong and they are easier to break as people get older.
So make sure you don't knock your grandys over!
- "Hi. I have broken my foot and pulled my Achilles tendon. I fell over and it really hurts. I can move around with crutches and hope it gets better soon." Sasha
- "Three years ago when there was a big mud hill on the oval I fell off it and landed on a rock. I had to go to hospital but I didn't cry. I had 3 x-rays and I had a sling on for 6 months. I took my sling off before I went to bed and in the morning it really hurt to bend my arm and put the sling on again." Harry
- "The electrician was on the roof fixing an antenna when he suddenly fell off. He landed on his leg and it was a weird shape.The ambulance came and took him to hospital." Brandon
- "At Dance I was about to do a cartwheel into a flip and I fell on my foot. When I got home we went to the doctors and my foot was broken. It was in plaster for 2 months." Abby
- "Me and my mum were at a playground. I was playing and fell off, landing on my arm. The bone was sticking out and my mum was screaming her head off! We had to drive to the hospital. I had x-rays and then had to wear a cast for 6 months." Jack C.
- "A few years ago I went to South Africa and me and my brother were playing in the park on a see saw. When I went down my foot was crushed under the seesaw." Juandre
- "One day my brother was at the mall and some sheets of plywood fell on his left foot. We took him to hospital and he got a temporary cast for 1 week, then he got a proper cast." Katie
Dr Kim says
Remember always to wear a helmet when you go for a ride on your bike, skateboard, skates or scooter. If you play some sports such as cricket or baseball, wear a helmet when it's your turn to bat. Helmets have saved many people from having skull fractures. You can wear a special kind of helmet if you play rugby too.
We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.