The simple fracture is often compared to the compound fracture. Compound breaks look very serious immediately because bone penetrates skin; bone may remain on the outside of the skin or cause a cut from the inside and shift back to where it can’t be seen. In contrast, a simple fracture is a break in the bone that doesn’t penetrate the skin. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean less serious, and there are other ways of assessing degree of severity in bone breaks.
An additional set of terms can be applied to fractures and these are important, too. A compound or simple break may be classified as incomplete or complete, which has to do with the amount of bone that breaks. When the break completely severs the bone in two, it is complete, and this can be seen in either type of fracture. Incomplete fracture refers to partial breakage of bone, where the two parts of bone are still connected by a bone piece. These definitions get even more refined and can refer to the way that bones break, such as across (transverse), in a bent fashion (greenstick), or in other ways.
What these definitions suggest is that simple is not necessarily easy. A complete simple fracture breaking up into fragments (comminuted) may take a long time to heal and be difficult to repair. Moreover, bone shifts inside the skin can damage plenty of tissue under its surface, including ligaments and blood vessels. The fact that people can’t see bone protruding from a wound doesn’t mean that fractures are less severe. Additionally, since bones can shift back inside a wound in a compound fracture, it might be mistaken for a simple one.
Any suspected bone break is serious and requires medical attention right away. It’s difficult to tell exactly the degree of damage, especially with a simple fracture, because the damage takes place below the surface. To accurately diagnosis the severity of a bone break, medical professionals rely on scans like X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and computed tomography (CT) scans. These images allow healthcare providers to determine how to address a fracture, and they often give them a sense of how long treatment will be needed, though each person is individual.
In some cases, a simple fracture may be treated easily, and some might not even require a cast if breaks are very small. Other times, extensive casting and/or surgery could be necessary to address the bone damage that lies under the skin. Treatment time will also be different, depending on type of fracture and any additional conditions that might accelerate or slow down bone healing.