Types of Fractures

There are several different types of fractures.

As with types of joints, types of fractures can be classified into different numbers of groups (or 'classes') depending on the level of detail required.

A short list of different types of fractures is:

  1. Partial (fracture) - incomplete break of bone, e.g. a greenstick fracture or a hairline fracture.
  2. Complete (fracture) - complete break resulting in bone being separated into 2 or more pieces.
  3. Closed or 'Simple' (fracture) - fractured bone(s) do not break through the skin.
  4. Open or 'Compound' (fracture) - at least some part of fractured bone(s) protrude through the skin.

Basic information about different types of fractures is listed in the following table.

Types of Bone Fractures
taught on introductory-level courses e.g. in anatomy & physiology

1.
Simple

A simple fracture is a clean break in a bone causing no (or very little) disturbance to the overlying skin. There are several sub-types of 'simple fracture', i.e. terms that can be used to describe specific simple fractures in more detail:

  • Simple transverse fractures - at right-angles or almost right-angles to the long axis of the bone. Transverse fractures are sometimes called 'chalkstick fractures' because the broken bone has been said to resemble a broken stick of chalk.
  • Simple oblique fractures - are those in which the break is at an angle of 30 degrees (30o) or more to the long axis of the bone.
  • Simple spiral fractures - the line of the fracture spirals around the bone, can be due to torsional forces.
2.
Greenstick

A greenstick fracture is an incomplete break in a bone (i.e. loss of continuity in the structure of the bone) in which part of the outer-shell of the bone remains intact.

Greenstick fractures tend to occur in children, whose bones are more flexible (less brittle) than those of adults - but not all fractures in children are greenstick fractures. Healing of greenstick fractures is usually relatively quick.

3.
Compound
(= 'open')

A compound fracture (also called an open fracture) involves a broken bone piercing and often protruding through the overlying skin. If the bone is not visibly exposed as a result of having broken through the skin it is still a compound / open fracture if the bone did so at some stage but has since reverted back or been moved within the overlaying skin. There are two types of compound fractures:

  • Fracture open from within out - meaning that the broken bone pushed outwards breaking the skin from the inside of the body, and
  • Fracture open from without in - meaning that the skin was first broken by trauma from outside the body directed inwards towards the body / bone, sometimes with severe force.

Of the 2 types of open fractures, those open from without in generally involve more severe damage and risk of infection than those open from within out.

4.
Comminuted (= 'multifragmentary')

A comminuted fracture is also known as a multifragmentary fracture and is characterized by the bone being broken into more than two pieces. There are several sub-types of 'comminuted fracture' or 'multifragmentary fracture' that describe specific forms of these fractures in more detail, such as:

  • Spiral wedge fracture - due to torsional force(s)
  • Bending wedge fracture - usually due to direct or indirect violence
  • Complex spiral fracture - has more than one spiral element
  • Complex segmental fracture - has one or more distinct 'complete' sections of bone, as opposed to multiple small irregular fragments
  • Complex irregular fracture - the bone between the main (largest) sections is broken into many irregular pieces or fragments, some of which may be very small.
5.
Impacted

An impacted fracture is a loss in continuity in the structure of bones i.e. breaks or cracks, in which at least one bone (or fragment of bone) has been driven into another.

6.
Complicated

A complicated fracture is a broken bone that has also damaged surrounding structures or organs, e.g. a broken rib that has punctured a lung.

More Types of Bone Fractures
including some more advanced knowlege and terminology

7.
Hairline

A hairline fracture is the result of insufficient trauma (e.g. force or impact) to cause much movement between the fragments of bone. The damage may be difficult to find and identify, even using X-rays. Sometimes another set of images is taken 7-10 days after the first to check.

A hairline fracture is sometimes referred to colloquially as a 'crack' or 'cracked bone'.

8.
Compression
(= 'crush')

A compression fracture (also called a crush fracture) happens when cancellous bone is compressed by force(s) greater than the bone can withstand. Examples include:

  • Compression of vertebrae e.g. due to excessive flexion and compression
  • Compression of the calcaneus (heel bone) e.g. due to a heavy fall / fall from height.
9.
Fatigue

A fatigue fracture can result from mechanical stresses applied to a bone too frequently, i.e. more often than the bone structure can withstand without sustaining incremental damage / weakness over time. (The expression 'fatigue fracture' is also used with the same meaning in the context of metals and metallurgy.)

10.
Pathological

A pathological fracture is a break in (i.e. loss of continuity in the substance of) a bone when the bone itself is either abnormal or diseased. See also pathological fracture and bone disorders.

- End of page about types of fractures in the human body -

See also information about the features on bones, the structure and functions of bones, the 206 human bones, cranial and facial bones, bones of the feet and hands, types of joints and skeletal disorders.

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