To avoid fractures, it’s important to understand them.

Even the mildest stress fracture is at best unpleasant, an irritating source of pain that will have you moving gingerly and avoiding physical activity for a few weeks so that the injury doesn’t get worse. More severe fractures, or fractures at an older age, can rapidly become a source of chronic pain that lasts a lifetime.


How Fractures Occur

Nearly any form of trauma or stress can lead to a fracture. Prolonged stress beyond what your boxes can handle often leads to stress fractures, especially in the load-bearing bones of your feet and legs. Overuse can also lead to more significant fractures, especially with an underlying abnormality or a final intense trauma. Falls and other sudden trauma, on the other hand, lead to a variety of break types, depending on how much force is exerted, how strong or fragile your bones are, the angle of the force, etc. For people with certain medical conditions, even minor impacts can lead to serious fractures.

Types of Fractures

While all fractures involve a break in the bone, the properties of fractures can vary significantly. This has led to specific names for the different types of break you might experience. Some overlap, as they describe different aspects of the break:
  • Comminuted fracture. A fracture which breaks the bone in multiple places, resulting in three or more pieces.
  • Oblique fracture. A fracture at an angle across the bone.
  • Transverse fracture. A horizontal fracture perpendicular to the length of the bone.
  • Stress fracture. Also known as a hairline fracture, a very thin crack usually resulting from overuse.
  • Spiral fracture. A type of fracture resulting from twisting force on the bone.
  • Stable fracture. A clean break where the broken ends of the bone are more or less still lined up and in place.
  • Open and closed fractures. Describes whether the bone broke the skin (open) or not. Open fractures are also sometimes known as compound fractures, and offer an increased risk of dangerous infection.
  • Pathologic fracture. A fracture resulting from disease. Overlaps with a physical fracture type.
There are also certain breaks more or less exclusive to children, due to the unique properties of growing bones:
  • Buckle fracture. A fracture resulting from a bone compressing when driven together with another bone.
  • Greenstick fracture. A fracture in which the bone bends and only partially breaks along the edge, like a broken stick of green wood.
  • Growth plate fracture. A fracture at the joint which can lead to a shortened bone.

While it’s impossible to eliminate all risk of fracture from your life, it’s important to understand what risk you’re at—and what activities and health decisions you wake that increase or decrease that risk.

  • Sports. Many sports have associated risks of one or more fractures. Repetitive motions increase the risk of stress fracture and high impacts and hard falls increase the risk of more serious fractures. Proper padding, technique, and rest are crucial in avoiding unnecessary breaks for the athletic.
  • Occupational hazards. Certain occupations offer a significantly increased risk of fractures, like jobs involving heights, heavy machinery, and repetitive movements. As with sports, proper precautions for regular risks can greatly reduce your chance of a fracture.
  • Inactivity. Inactivity over time leads to reduced bone density, especially in older people. This makes it easier to break a bone with less force.
  • Increased activity. While exercise is good, a sudden increase in the intensity of activity can greatly increase your risk of fractures, especially stress fractures.
  • Sex. Women are much more likely to experience a fracture given the same level of trauma, especially as they age, due to lower bone density and a higher risk of osteoporosis.
  • Chronic medical conditions. Any number of chronic medical conditions which directly or indirectly effect bone density will in turn increase your likelihood of breaking a bone.
  • Certain medications. Cortisone medications and some others can weaken bones and cause tearing, while other medications can make you more likely to suffer a fall or accident.
  • Previous injuries. A history of stress fractures can increase your likelihood of stress fractures in the same bone, as can incomplete healing of other types of fracture.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. Low vitamin D and calcium can lead to decreased bone density, making it easier to break bones.
  • Age. Generally speaking, your likelihood of a fracture given a particular impact or stress event increases with age. Beyond that, certain fracture types and particular fractures change in likelihood at different ages; the unique properties of children’s bones make greenstick fractures, buckle fractures, and growth plate fractures more or less exclusive to children.
  • Tobacco or alcohol use. Tobacco and alcohol both interfere with the formation and maintenance of bone.
  • Bone abnormalities. Even relatively benign abnormalities in a bone can make it easier to break, due to changes in how pressure is distributed under load.

Fractures usually stem from accidents, and thus aren’t wholly within your control, but taking care of your body can greatly strengthen your bones, reduce your likelihood of trauma, and ensure better recovery if an accident does occur. Exercise, nutrition, and proper technique and equipment during physical activities will significantly reduce your risk.

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