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Breaking Down a Fracture: July 20, 2013

When it comes to your bones, all fractures are not created equal. Doctors break them down into several categories. Something athletes may be familiar with, are stress fractures.

“Stress fracture is a small crack that can occur over time by accumulating trauma, usually overuse. Something we see much more common in runners,” says Dr. James Bynum, orthopedic sports surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Stress fractures can also develop during everyday activities, in bone that's been weakened by osteoporosis.

“It’s generally a population in their 60s, 70s, 80s, even 90s. Essentially the bone becomes weakened and with trivial injuries - lifting some groceries, stepping off of a curb, sitting down vigorously in a chair - they might sustain an osteoporotic fracture,” says Dr. Paul Fuchs, orthopedic spine surgeon on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Stress fractures don’t require medical intervention in order to heal. Taking time off and alleviating the stress gives the body time to recover. In cases that involve osteoporosis, doctors will sometimes stabilize the crack. On the flip side, a compound fracture always warrants medical treatment.

“Compound fracture is also known as open fracture. It’s any fracture where the bone comes out the skin. Which is a little more severe than a normal fracture, because now you run the risk of infection,” says Dr. Bynum.

Sometimes seen in contact sports, the compound fracture is the result of a direct blow or high velocity impact.

“Like a motor vehicle crash or a fall from a height, those would be more of a high velocity fracture or a break of the bone,” says Dr. Fuchs.

A traumatic break requires emergency attention. The exposure to air creates the potential for complications.

“The bigger the wound is, the more trauma there is to the exposed bone, the more chance there is for complications such as infection or poor healing,” says Dr. Bynum.

Stress fracture or compound, either way they can be a tough break.