Aging & Health A to Z
Basic Facts & Information
What are Fractures?
A bone fracture is a complete break or an incomplete cracking of a bone. Fractures happen when the bone is subjected to a force that is too strong for the bone to withstand. If the bone is already weakened, it does not take much force to cause a fracture. For example, bones can be weakened by osteoporosis (loss of bone mass), arthritis or cancer. In older people, a large proportion of fractures are linked with falls . Fractures in older people may lead to:
- Reduced mobility, independence and ability to carry out daily functions
- Moving into long-term care
- Chronic pain
- Worse quality of life
- Higher risk of death.
The Most Common Types of Fractures
There are several types of fractures:
- Simple (closed) – The broken bone stays within your skin.
- Compound (open) – The broken bone tears through skin.
- Incomplete (greenstick or hairline) – The crack in the bone does not go all the way through the width of the bone.
- Complete – The bone breaks all the way across.
Healthcare professionals also have terms for the pattern of a fracture (for example, linear or spiral fractures). If the bones are still in their proper places, the fracture is called a non-displaced break.
If you break a bone from a very small impact—for example while carrying out normal daily activities or from a small fall—the break is called a fragility fracture. This type of break would not occur in a healthy younger person.
Older adults are most likely to suffer fractures of the:
- Wrist or arm
- Bones in the spine or backbone (vertebrae)
- Leg or ankle
How Common are Fractures?
Fractures happen more easily as you get older. If you are over 85, your chance of breaking a bone is four times more than if you are between the ages of 65 and 75. More than 1.5 million people in the US have fractures related to osteoporosis every year.
In the US, 250 to 500 thousand women break a hip or spinal bone every year—90% of the time from a fall. About half of women over the age of 85 fall every year.
The risk of fractures is higher in Caucasian women than any other race. Almost half of white women over the age of 50 will fracture their hip, spine, or wrist at some point. Only 13% of white men will have such a fracture. The risk for non-white races is lower for all types of fractures.
In general, the risk of dying goes up by 20% in the year after a hip fracture, and about half of patients suffering a fracture do not get back to their previous level of activity.
Updated: March 2012
Posted: March 2012