What is the Difference Between a “Break” and a “Fracture”- Hint: This is a Trick Question


by Eric Walsh, MD

Patients are often told that they have “broken” a bone in their body. When they come to the orthopedist, they are told that they have “fractured” a bone and often there is some confusion. The short answer is that a “fracture” and a “break” are the SAME thing.  A “break” is the simple term used in the general population, but in the medical world and especially in orthopedics, we use the word “fracture” to describe the pathology of the injury.

After a patient has been told that they have “fractured” a bone, then it is incumbent on (the responsibility of) the orthopedist to describe what type of fracture the patient has and to begin appropriate treatment. Fractures range from very common and simple fractures that are usually the result of low energy injuries like sports injury or falls, to much more complex fractures from high energy injuries like car and motorcycle crashes or falls from high heights.

The treatment of the fractured bone is related to its severity. The more deformity of the bone and soft tissue damage, the more likely surgical intervention would be needed to restore the alignment of the bone and promote healing. Fractures that are nondisplaced can often be managed with splints or casts without any type of manipulation or pushing on the bone or surgical intervention.


One last term that is often confusing is the “compound” fracture. This is a term that is no longer used in the orthopedic community and used to describe high energy fractures where the bone has come out of the skin. We as orthopedists now describe these as “open” fractures. Most fractures are “closed” fractures where the bone has remained inside the skin and muscle. Open fractures, not always, but usually require operative treatment to prevent infection.

At the end of the day, whatever your orthopedic injury - an open or closed fracture or break, your orthopedist will describe it to you and will treat you carefully and immediately in hopes of starting the healing process, to get you back to work and play as soon as possible!