Basic Facts

What are Fractures?

A bone fracture is either 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, one in five falls causes a serious injury such as fractures or a head injury. 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. 

Fragility Fractures

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:

  • Hip
  • Pelvis
  • Wrist or arm
  • Bones in the spine or backbone (vertebrae)
  • Leg or ankle
  • Hand
  • Ribs 

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 higher than if you are between the ages of 65 and 75. More than 2 million people in the US yearly have fractures related to osteoporosis, a disease of low bone density. 

In the United States, 250,000 to 500,000 women break a hip or spinal bone every year—90% of the time from a fall. One in four men and one in two women over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis affects people of all ethnic backgrounds. One half of all postmenopausal women and one in five men over 50 will experience a fracture related to osteoporosis.

In general, the risk of death is about 20% in the year after a hip fracture. In people who were walking independently before their fracture, 40% returned to their prior level of function after the fracture and 20% required long term nursing care.   


Last Updated June 2020