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What is a Simple Fracture?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a TheHealthBoard contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By burcidi — On Nov 17, 2012
I guess we can't really make generalizations about fractures, because there are so many factors involved in deciding how bad they are.

My aunt had a simple fracture in her neck after a car accident. She was not moved at all until medical personnel came. They put a neck collar on her and place her carefully in the ambulance. Even though the fracture was a simple fracture, it was very dangerous because it was in her neck where all the nerves are located.

I think it's better to treat all fractures as serious until you get to the hospital like the article said. It's better to be safe than sorry.

By donasmrs — On Nov 16, 2012
@literally45-- I don't think the name is all that misleading. Simple bone fractures are simple, simpler in comparison to open and compound fractures.

I think doctors chose these labels based on the type of treatment each fracture requires. Simple fractures are easier to treat than compound fractures. They usually just require realignment and a cast to heal. But open and compound fractures require surgery.

People tend to get confused because they think that easy means no pain. That's not true, but a simple fracture will be less painful than a compound fracture and will heal faster.

By literally45 — On Nov 16, 2012

If the name of this fracture is so misleading, why don't medical professionals just change it and refer to it as something else?

Why confuse people?

By ElizaBennett — On May 21, 2011

On the other end of the spectrum from EdRick's nephew, my son fell off the monkey bars and had a greenstick fracture in his forearm. Now, that really was a "simple" fracture (although it looked weird on the X-ray because it didn't go all the way through the bone). It not only didn't break the skin, but was relatively easy to treat. He didn't even have to have a hard cast. The doctor gave him a removable splint.

By EdRick — On May 19, 2011

My sister was told her son had "simple fractures" after his car accident and she thought that was a good thing. If only! Simple fractures are also called "closed" and that seems to make more sense to me. The skin stays closed. In his case, the "simple" fractures were anything but. He actually had comminuted fractures--the bone was broken into three pieces--and had to have surgery and physical therapy.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a TheHealthBoard contributor, Tricia...
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