• Sticks and stones may break our bones… but what exactly is a fracture?

      What is the difference between a broken bone and a fracture? This is a common question among our patients. The answer: a fracture and a broken bone are the same thing. The term fracture comes from the Latin fractura, which translates to a broken bit or fragment. So, all broken bones are fractures, yet fractures themselves are divided into three distinct categories: non-displaced fracture, displaced fracture, and stress fracture. Let’s review.

      When a bone breaks, the broken ends may stay in contact with each other or may move considerably. If there is bony contact after a break, we call this a non-displaced fracture.  As long as the alignment of the bone and the stability of the joint are preserved, these types of fractures can often be treated without an operation. Alternatively, if there is major shifting of bones, loss of alignment, and instability at the joint after a fracture, we term this a displaced fracture. Displaced fractures will not heal on their own and will often require surgery as a result.

      Lastly, there is the stress fracture. Stress fractures result from continual, repeated loading of bone. These types of fractures occur almost exclusively in the bones of the legs and feet. Stress fractures were first recognized in new recruits to the army, who were forced to complete long marches in training. Today, we often diagnose stress fractures in distance runners.

      Non-displaced and displaced fractures are often the result of a specific injury and there’s little we can do to prevent the fluke stumbles and slips that cause them. Stress fractures, however, are a little more particular as to who is affected and why. Individuals who suffer from anorexia have a higher incidence of stress fractures due to a lack of necessary nutrients for proper bone strength. Sometimes, however, it is the healthiest and hardiest of us who succumb to stress fractures as we push ourselves beyond our limits while training for our first marathon or entering the new season after a few months off.

      The good news is that stress fractures can be avoided by staying healthy and smart. That means knowing your limits when it comes to repetitive exercises like jogging, and eating right. As always, speak to your primary care physician about any questions or concerns you may have, and find out if there are any risk factors that could increase your risk of a stress fracture. Exercise should keep you healthy, not harm you, so don’t let a stress fracture get in your way of staying active and well.