What is the Difference Between a Fracture and a Break?

difference between fracture and break

What’s the difference between a fracture and a break?

The short answer: there is no difference.

A bone fracture is the same thing as a break. The bone may or may not separate completely, but any disruption in the bone structure is considered a fracture.

This is true of a hairline fracture or a completely shattered bone. In all cases, the bone has experienced a break and is considered fractured. A Xray can be used to identify the severity of a fracture.

Is a fracture worse than a break?

Nope, remember a bone fracture and break are one in the same. The severity of the fracture can be classified more specifically to help the medial team understand the severity of the broken bone.

Why Does a Bone Break?

A fracture can happen for many reasons. Some of the most common ways a bone can break are as follows:

Impact related stress: An example of this may include a car accident, falling from a ladder, or some other trauma.

Repeated stress: Stress fractures from small repetitive stress can result in a fracture over time. This is commonly seen in runners, but can happen to people of any age and activity level.

Structural weakening: Sometimes a bone can fracture because of structural weakening such as osteoporosis, a tumor, infections, or other pathologies.

Types of Bone Fractures

Fractures can be classified in a variety of ways but the most common ways are:

  • Complete Fracture: The break goes through the entire bone
  • Incomplete Fracture: The break does not go all the way through 
  • Comminuted Fracture: The bone is broken into multiple pieces
  • Segmental: the bone is broken into multiple segments, pieces of bone may float between segments

Reference: Ortho info

How is a Fracture or Broken Bone Treated

Depending on the severity, your physician may choose to treat the bone non-operatively. In this case, you may be provided with a sling or cast for your arm, or a brace or cast for your legs. Some fractures in the ankle or boot may respond well with use of a boot.

The physician may also recommend surgery to repair the fracture. Depending on the severity of the break, the bone may require structural support through the use of plates, screws, pins, or other hardware.

In many cases, the patient may experience further injury to surrounding muscles, ligaments, or tendons. These injuries may take longer to heal depending on the severity of the muscle strain or tissue injury. 

How long does it take for a bone to heal?

Typically a bone will require 6 to 8 weeks to heal, which is why you may be instructed to use a walker or crutches to be ‘non-weight bearing.’

You may be provided with a script for Physical Therapy following an orthopedic injury like a fracture. The therapist will help to restore your range of motion, strength, balance, and overall movement patterns. Your PT can also help restore your walking pattern and provide strategies to decrease pain and discomfort.

Tim Fraticelli, DPT Physical Therapist

Tim Fraticelli is a Physical Therapist, Certified Financial Planner™ and founder of PTProgress.com. He loves to teach PTs and OTs ways to save time and money in and out of the clinic, especially when it comes to documentation or continuing education. Follow him on YouTube for weekly videos on ways to improve your financial health.