What’s the Difference Between a Bone Fracture and a Break?

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There is no difference between a bone fracture vs a break; they mean the same thing. When a bone has a hairline crack or is completely shattered it becomes weak. Your healthcare provider may call the injury either a broken bone or a fracture.

This article will discuss what causes a fractured or broken bone, different types of fractures, the symptoms, and how they’re diagnosed and treated.

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Fracture vs. Break

The words "bone fracture" and "broken bone" refer to the same type of injury. The terms are used to refer to any loss of continuity of the bone. Through trauma or disease, a bone can lose integrity and develop a hairline crack that’s barely visible on an X-ray, or it could break through from one side to the other. Bones may also shatter into several pieces.

Sometimes minor cracks in bones are referred to as "fractures" while complete breaks or shatterings are considered a "break." However, the terms can be used interchangeably.

Causes of a Fracture

Broken bones happen because the bone has been put under strain or trauma, which may happen during an accident or sports injury. Bones can also become weak as a result of medical conditions like osteoporosis.

Common causes of fractured bones include:

  • Sports (especially contact sports like football)
  • Accidents (car, motorcycle, etc.)
  • Activities or hobbies where you could fall or experience an impact
  • Overuse which may occur with running, horseback riding, dancing, etc.
  • Medical conditions (osteoporosis, tumors in the bone, etc.)

Types of Fractures

There are many kinds of fractures that can develop. These depend on where the bone is broken, how severe the break is, and whether the bones are lined up. 

Examples of broken bone types include:

  • Simple fracture
  • Closed and open fractures
  • Comminuted fracture
  • Oblique fracture 
  • Displaced and Stable (Undisplaced) fractures
  • Transverse fracture
  • Greenstick fracture

Symptoms of a Fracture

The signs and symptoms of a broken bone can include:

  • Pain
  • Numbness/tingling
  • Unable to move the limb or limited mobility in the limb
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Bleeding 

When to Call 911

If you think you have a broken bone, do not wait to get medical attention. Call 911 if you cannot move, do not have someone to take you to the ER, or if you are not sure how to care for the injury until help arrives. 

How a Fracture Is Diagnosed

A fractured bone can be diagnosed by a healthcare provider. While they might be able to tell the bone is broken by looking at it, asking you about what happened when you got hurt, and asking you about your symptoms, they’ll usually need to do imaging tests to get a closer look.

X-rays are usually used to look at the bone and see what type of break has happened. These images help your provider decide what kind of treatment you need. 

Fracture vs. Sprain

A sprain is very different than a fracture. Fractures relate to bone problems. Sprains are injuries to the thick bands of cartilage that attach bone to bone—often at a joint—called ligaments. 

You can break a bone, but you cannot break a ligament. However, you can tear a ligament. For example, your ankle is made of three bones—tibia, fibula, and talus. You can break any of them. You can also stretch or tear the ligaments and tissue holding the three bones together; that's called a sprain.

Both types of injuries can be very painful. You won’t be able to tell if you’ve broken a bone or got a sprained ankle without having an X-ray.

How Fractures Are Treated

The treatment for a broken bone depends on what bone is injured, how bad the injury is, and what your bone health and overall health are like.

Treatment for a fracture can include:

  • Casts, including those made of fiberglass or plaster
  • Traction to pull the bones back into place
  • Fixation with pins or wires (internal or external)
  • Surgery to fix the bone
  • Physical therapy to help with recovery

How to Prevent Fractures

 If you take part in sports or other activities that put you at risk for broken bones, the best way to prevent fractures is to make sure you’re using the right protective gear and technique. It's important to also follow league rules.

For example, putting on shin guards when you play soccer, wearing a helmet when you are biking or horseback riding, and staying on a pike bath can help reduce your risk of bone injuries.

If you’re at a higher risk for a broken bone because of your health—for example, because you have weak bones from osteoporosis—you may need to take proactive steps around your home to reduce the risk of a fall.

For example, you may need to be extra careful when taking the stairs, remove throw rugs from your bedroom to prevent tripping, and sand or salt your driveway in icy weather to lower your chances of slipping.


A broken bone and a fracture are the same; the words are just used interchangeably. Whether your provider says you have a broken bone or a fracture, the treatment for the injury will be the same. However, the course of treatment will depend on how bad the break is, what type of fracture it is, and your overall health. 

You can prevent fractures by knowing the risks of your hobbies or sports activities and taking steps to prevent injuries. Also consider making changes in your home to protect against falls, and go about your day-to-day life with a mindset to guard against possible accidents (like wearing your seatbelt in the car). 

Rod Brouhard, EMT-P

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.