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A bone has a displaced fracture when it breaks in two or more pieces and is no longer correctly aligned. This type of fracture tends to be more painful and can often lead to other kinds of damage in the body from the bone edge. Due to the position of the bone, which causes a bulge or break in the skin, a fracture of this kind can usually be diagnosed without an x-ray.
There are a few different types of displaced fractures. With a rotated fracture, the bone will break and one piece will turn around, but otherwise remain in the correct place. In the case of an angulated fracture, the bone will remain in essentially the right position, but one broken piece will tip either up or down. With an axially-displaced fracture a broken piece of bone will shift straight away from the rest of the bone.
Once the fracture has been diagnosed, the bone must be reset. In some cases, it may be necessary to use pins and wires to hold the bone in the proper position. Depending on the severity of the break, this may be done surgically. A fracture may also require surgery in order to give doctors access to set the bone. Once the bone is properly set, the body can begin to fuse it back together again.
There is a higher risk of other injuries with a displaced fracture. The broken portion of the bone can cause additional damage to the rest of the broken bone or other bones nearby. It can also cause damaged tissue, nerves, and blood vessels. All of these factors are considered when determining the severity of a fracture.
A displaced fracture may also lead to an open fracture, which is when the sharp part of the broken bone pierces the skin. The bone can either remain sticking outside of the skin, or break through and then slip back inside the body. This is opposed to a closed fracture, where the skin remains intact. In the case of an open fracture there is a higher chance of deep bone infection. For this reason, surgery is often required in order to ensure that the bone heals correctly.
When a bone has a non-displaced fracture, it remains in correct alignment. While it can be broken in two as with a displaced fracture, the bone may also be simply cracked. With this kind of fracture, it is often only necessary that the patient wear a splint or cast for several weeks while the bone heals. Surgery, pins, or wire are rarely needed.