A fracture is a break in any bone of the body—such as a bone in the arm, hand, foot, leg, spine, or ribcage. Fractures can be caused by:
- Impacts, such as a blow from or collision with an object
- Stress, such as excessive weight or pressure that causes a bone to break
- Injury in the absence of a significant identifiable trauma, such as a stress fracture in a spine weakened by loss of bone density, as in osteoporosis
If your physician suspects a fracture, an X-ray or other imaging exam will be necessary to confirm the diagnosis and plan the best type of treatment. Depending on its location, nature, and severity, a fracture may be treated through immobilization (such as the use of a cast, brace, or splint to hold the bone in place while healing) or, when necessary, surgery, which sometimes involves the use of implants or filler material to reconstruct or strengthen damaged bone tissue.
A sprain is an injury to a joint, such as the shoulder, elbow, knee, ankle, or wrist, caused by excessive stretching of one or more ligaments (tissue that connects the bones of a joint). A strain is a tear injury, with similar causes, to muscle tissue. Sprains and strains can often be diagnosed without an X-ray or other imaging exam, based on the history and symptoms reported by the patient along with visual examination and palpation by the physician. However, your physician may determine that an imaging exam is necessary to rule out a fracture and confirm the best treatment.
Some sprains and strains can heal on their own with time, rest, and possible medication to reduce pain while the injury heals. More severe tear injuries, however, may also require immobilization—ranging from a bandage wrap or sling to a splint, brace, or cast. Surgery is sometimes necessary for severe injuries, to ensure that the ligaments or muscle tissue heals correctly so that the patient will not have a long-term or permanent loss of mobility.
A dislocation is the misalignment of the bones of a joint, such as the shoulder, knee, or hip, or of a joint in the finger, usually resulting from a sudden impact or other trauma, and occasionally due to loose ligaments. A dislocation may also be accompanied by a fracture. A separation involves tearing of muscles or ligaments that anchor the bones of a joint together. Separation injuries may or may not be accompanied by the dislocation of the bones.
An imaging exam may be needed to confirm the diagnosis, rule out fractures or other problems, and identify the best treatment which, depending on the severity of the injury or other factors, could involve manual repositioning of the joint, immobilization, or surgery to reconnect torn tissue.
For further information and resources on orthopedic injuries, visit the OrthoInfo Web site from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.