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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes 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, which 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 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, post-menopausal women, medications that reduce bone density, a poor diet, and poor balance or eyesight, which puts you at a higher risk of falls.

You can reduce your fracture risk by optimizing 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 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 the hospital, such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI scan. This will enable the 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 several hours after eating or drinking.

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 operate 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 stress fractures, 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, which carries a risk of infection - the orthopedic team will treat this carefully during any surgery and in the care afterward to reduce your risk of complications.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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