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Is There a Difference Between a Broken Bone and a Fracture?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 17, 2024
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There is no difference at all between a broken bone and a fracture. A fracture is not a kind of break or a different degree of breakage. To break a bone is exactly the same thing as to fracture a bone.

Sometimes, a snapping sound can be heard when a bone is broken. If the person cannot move the body part and is experiencing a lot of pain, a bone may be fractured. In some cases, the part may still be able to be moved, but it will probably move abnormally.

An open break means that the bone is sticking out through the skin and the body is bleeding in response. The bleeding should be stopped without putting any pressure on the bone. Those with a broken bone in the neck or back should not be moved, as it could cause further damage.

A broken arm or leg may be put into a cast to help it heal. The cast must be kept clean and dry, or it could cause problems for the body part underneath. Medical experts often recommend raising the injured limb in the cast up when resting it to help keep it from swelling.

Sometimes, an orthopedic surgeon will perform surgery on the broken bone before putting it in a cast. Open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) is a surgical procedure that often uses screws and plates system to help keep the bone in place as it heals. An object called an intramedullary rod (IM rod) is sometimes used instead of the screws and plates. ORIF is also called open treatment.

A sprain and a strain are different from a fracture, because they involve damage to the ligament or muscle, not the bone. Ligaments bind the bones together, and a sprain is the name for when the ligament is stretched too far or torn. A strain is when the fibers in a muscle or tendon — which attaches muscle to bone — are torn. Signs for both strains and sprains include bruising, swelling, and pain, and this type of injury should be examined by a medical professional.

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Discussion Comments

By anon306471 — On Nov 29, 2012

I broke my collarbone, and it broke in two. If you see the x-ray, it looks pretty bad. It's not a fracture, but a complete break in the bone.

By serenesurface — On Aug 22, 2012

@anon35785, @anon34267-- The moderator is right. Fracture is the general medical term for a broken bone. But there are many types of fractures depending on which bone has fractured and how it has fractured. And the term "fracture" doesn't imply anything about the broken bone treatment that should be used.

For example, when I was a kid, I had an impacted fracture in my arm. So basically the two bones in my arm were driven into each other when I fell on it. I had a cast on for over a month for that fracture to heal.

My dad just had a stress fracture in his foot. This is a more mild fracture, it's from putting too much pressure on a particular bone. He's wearing a shoe cast to treat it right now. Technically we both had broken bones/fractures, but they're so different.

By burcinc — On Aug 21, 2012

@lluviaporos-- I agree with you. I don't mean to generalize but I think in the West, people are more aware of this and will usually wait until the ambulance arrives. They won't move people who were just hurt in an accident.

But when I was living in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, I would watch news on TV where they would be showing the aftermath of an accident. And since the ambulance took an extremely long time to get there (or just didn't get there at all), random people on the street were moving the injured.

I would be sitting there thinking to myself how dangerous that is. Especially if there is a fracture in the back or lower back like you said. Since spinal nerves are in the back, a wrong move can cause a fractured bone to damage a nerve and cause that person to become paralyzed! And you're absolutely right that there may be no broken bone symptoms initially.

By stoneMason — On Aug 21, 2012

@anon47921, @pastanaga-- Yea, I think we tend to assume that a fracture is a crack in the bone. When someone says that they broke a bone, it sounds like it's in really bad shape, sort of like if you were to break a twig in half.

I agree that it's not our fault that it's confusing. Lots of people assume this and it really has to do with the difference between medical terms and common terms.

By pastanaga — On Aug 21, 2012

I've never realized this either. I guess I always equated the word fracture with a crack in the bone, rather than a full break in the bone.

I guess I should know better, since my sister had what is called a green-stick fracture when we were kids and that is an almost complete break in the bone, yet is known as a fracture.

It was quite cool seeing the broken bone on the x-ray, although my sister wasn't nearly as impressed.

By lluviaporos — On Aug 20, 2012

Just want to add that it's really essential advice to never move someone who has fractured a bone in their back. The thing is, it's difficult to tell whether you've hurt your back if you've had an accident, particularly if there's any chance you've gone into shock. It's perfectly possible to try and move and injure yourself more.

So, if there's any chance you might have hurt your back or your neck and you aren't in any danger it's a good idea to just stay as still as possible until some medical personal are able to help you.

By anon68991 — On Mar 05, 2010

wow, i never knew that! so apparently, i broke my toe and shoulder last summer.

By anon61684 — On Jan 21, 2010

i agree with anon34267. it's not that they mean the same thing that's confusing. it's in how they're used. You go in and say, "I think it's broken" and they run an x-ray and say it's fractured. as a lay person, i'm thinking "Oh, fracture. that's not so bad." but I learned that they're the same.

By anon35785 — On Jul 07, 2009

i would like to know the same thing.

By anon34267 — On Jun 19, 2009

So, if there's no difference, why do you have two names for the same thing? Far too confusing.

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