Difference between a Fracture and a Break

Updated on July 8, 2017

The terms “fracture” and “break” both refer to the same medical condition and are therefore interchangeable. This article clears misconceptions by providing valuable information about this condition.

Definitions

Fracture
Types of fracture

A fracture, also known as a break, is a medical condition characterized by the loss of bone integrity, which consequently leads to a break in either the cartilage or the bone. The term “fracture” is typically used by medical professionals, while “break” is used by people outside the medical field.

Contrary to popular belief, any minimal sign of bone breakage is already considered a fracture, which is diagnosed by the use of an x-ray. Even though fractures usually occur in the tibia and fibula, it can affect all the bones in the body.

Several factors predispose a person to obtain a fracture. Basically, a fracture occurs when the external force applied to the bone is too powerful, leading to bone trauma or breakage. Aside from strong physical external force, bone diseases such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta can make a person more vulnerable to acquiring a fracture. This type of fracture is called pathological fracture.

Additionally, since bones become more brittle with age, adults are more susceptible to obtaining fractures. While a simple fall may not traumatize the bones of younger patients, it may cause mild to severe fractures in older patients.

The bones can break in different ways. For instance, a fracture to the bone that does not damage tissues is called a closed fracture, while a fracture that damages the tissues and the skin is called an open fracture or a compound fracture. Since open or compound fractures break through the skin, they are more dangerous since they cause infection. Plus, the affected area may also bleed heavily, thus requiring immediate medical attention.

Other types of fractures include displaced and non-displaced fracture. The former refers to a type of fracture where the bone breaks into two or more parts and is displaced and misaligned. If the bone snaps into tiny pieces, it is medically referred to as a comminuted fracture. A non-displaced fracture, on the other hand, is a type of fracture where the bone maintains its alignment despite breaking apart.

While physical manifestations can vary from one type of fracture to another, signs and symptoms such as localized swelling, pain, skin discoloration, bruising, and angulation are typical for patients suffering from a fracture. If large bones such as the pelvis and the femur were fractured, paleness, dizziness, and nausea can also manifest.

An x-ray, an MRI, and a CT scan are usually used to diagnose a fracture. Once a patient is diagnosed with a fracture, the affected area is immediately immobilized by the use of metal plates and screws, plaster casts, external fixators, or intramedullary nails. Depending on the severity of the fracture, immobilization on the affected area may last for around 2 to 8 weeks.

Fracture vs Break

So what’s the difference between a fracture and a break? There is no difference between the two. However, the term “fracture” is typically used by medical professionals, while “break” is used by people outside the medical field.