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Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 25.04.2023 | 2 min read

A fracture is a break or crack in one of the bones in the body. Fractures are most common with increasing age as the strength of our bones decreases and our risk of falls increases.

The main symptoms of a fracture are pain, swelling, and deformity at the site of the fracture. There may be swelling and a different shape to the affected area, and it will be painful to touch.

Small breaks may cause minimal pain, but large breaks such as hip or leg fractures can cause severe pain and will make you feel very unwell.

Fracture risk factors

There are a number of factors that can contribute to the risk of fractures. These include increasing age, smoking, women who are post-menopausal, medications that reduce bone density, a poor diet, and poor balance or poor eyesight that makes you at higher risk of trip hazards.

You can reduce your risk of suffering a fracture by optimising your bone health. This includes a well-balanced diet, regular exercise that involves strength training and high-impact cardio, and avoiding smoking and excess alcohol. Ensure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D from your diet and supplements, if necessary, and stick to a healthy weight - bones can become weaker if you are underweight, or they are under strain with obesity.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are concerned you have suffered a fracture you should seek urgent medical attention. You may need to call the emergency services to ask for an ambulance and will need further imaging in hospital such as an X-ray, CT scan or MRI scan. This will enable to team to conclude whether there is a fracture.

What next?

If you think you may have suffered a fracture, do not eat or drink anything. If you require surgery, you will need to wait a number of hours until after you last ate or drank.

Broken bones need to be kept stable and in the correct position. They may be repositioned by the hospital team, or in some cases, they may perform an operation to keep the bone stable if this can't be adequately done with the support of a plaster cast alone. Some may require metal plates or screws to keep them in place.

Some fractures are very small or hairline, called a stress fracture, and require rest and avoidance of further stress on the bones. Some fractures are displaced, where the broken bones sit at odd angles to each other - you will see this deformity, and they need to be realigned before they can heal. Others may cause a fragment of the bone to come through the skin, called an open fracture, and this carries a risk of infection - the orthopaedic team will treat this careful both during any surgery and in the care afterwards, to reduce your risk of complications.

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