Many people were introduced to the orthopedic surgeon at a young age when they were brought to the emergency room with their first broken bone. For me the memory of the event is now faint (something about a bicycle and pavement), but the cast that I was able to tote around the classroom is fondly recalled as one of my moments of youthful pride.
Fractures, broken bones--you can call it what you wish, they mean the same thing--are among the most common orthopedic problems, about 7 million come to medical attention each year in the United States. The average person in a developed country can expect to sustain two fractures over the course of their lifetime.
Despite what you may have heard, a broken bone is not worse than a fracture, they both mean the same thing. In fact, the word fracture, according to the Oxford English Dictionary is defined as "the act of being broken." There are different types of fractures and broken bones, but these words mean the same thing!.
How Fractures Occur
Fractures occur because an area of bone is not able to support the energy placed on it (quite obvious, but it becomes more complicated). Therefore, there are two critical factors in determining why a fracture occurs:
- the energy of the event
- the strength of the bone
The energy can being acute, high-energy (e.g. car crash), or chronic, low-energy (e.g. stress fracture). The bone strength can either be normal or decreased (for example, weak bone is seen in patients with osteoporosis). A very simple problem, the broken bone, just became a whole lot more complicated!
Most Common Fractures
Orthopedic surgeons treat fractures throughout the skeletal frame, except for the skull (neurosurgeon) and face (ENT, or ear, nose, and throat surgeon). Extremity fractures are most common, and usually occur in men younger than age 45, and then become more common in women over age 45.
After this time, women have a more rapid loss of bone density and a likelihood of developing bone thinning. This is why women are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis and subsequent fractures. The most common fracture prior to age 75 is a wrist fracture. In those over age 75, hip fractures become the most common broken bone.
Fracture treatment can vary from simple rest and protection of the injury, to complex surgical procedures. Determining the most appropriate treatment depends on a number of factors including:
- Location of the broken bone
- Alignment of the fracture
- Patient's expectations
Once appropriate treatment has been selected, you can begin the process of healing your broken bone!