At the most basic level, bone fractures are classified in four ways: oblique, comminuted, spiral and compound (also known as open). An oblique fracture involves a single fracture line through a bone at a sloped or curved pattern. A comminuted fracture occurs when the bone has been fractured into two or more fragments. A spiral fracture runs around the axis of the bone. Lastly, a compound or open fracture is one in which the fractured bone breaks the skin.
Our bones continually absorb and replace its cells even when they are not damaged or injured. Luckily, this natural turnover allows the process of healing to be very natural. However, for the fracture to heal well, a good the alignment of the broken ends of the bone must occur. The bone must be prevented from moving out of place until it properly heals.
There are three main treatment options for bone fractures are:
- Casting: This is the most common type of fracture treatment in which a plaster or fiberglass cast keeps the bone in proper position while it heals.
- Open reduction and internal fixation: This procedure is recommended for complicated fractures not able to be realigned (reduced) by casting, or in cases in which the long-term use of a cast is undesirable. This involves a surgery to repair the fracture. Frequently metal rods, screws or plates are used to repair the bone, and remain in place, under the skin, after the surgery.
- Open reduction and external fixation: This technique is generally applied to complex fractures that cannot be repaired using open reduction, and internal fixation. Surgery repairs the fracture, while an external fixation device is placed on the limb. This device is an external frame which supports and holds the bone in the correct position while it is healing.