A spiral fracture is a type of bone fracture which is caused by a twisting force. They are also referred to as torsion fractures, in a reference to the forces involved to create a spiral fracture. It can be difficult to treat this type of fracture because the break is helical. Treatment can involve months in a cast and possible surgery, depending on the location of the break, the general health of the individual, and the specific circumstances involved in a fracture.
A classic example of a spiral fracture is a fracture incurred while skiing. Skiers lock their feet into the skis in sturdy ski boots, so if a ski breaks or the skier loses control and the ski rotates, the leg may be violently twisted in one direction, creating a textbook spiral fracture. As anyone who has broken a leg skiing knows, this type of fracture can be extraordinarily painful, and it typically quashes any skiing activity for several months, at least.
To diagnose this kind of fracture, a doctor will take x-rays of the site and examine them. The x-rays will confirm that the issue is a fracture, and a close examination of the image can provide information about what kind of fracture is involved. Depending on the situation, the doctor may recommend surgery to pin the bone, ensuring proper healing in the event of a severe break, or the limb may simply be set in a cast to hold it still while the fracture heals.
Significant torsion is not required to create this type of fracture, especially in the case of people with fragile bones due to age or poor diet. In the event that a person does not have immediate access to medical care, as might be the case when camping, any suspected fracture should be immobilized with a splint to keep the patient comfortable while being transported to a hospital.
Historically, these fractures have been considered an indication of abuse, especially in children; the suggestion is that the twisting motion necessary could be caused by something such as a parent or guardian grabbing and twisting the arm or leg of a child. As a result, when medical professionals see such fractures in children, they may report the injury to child protection authorities. It is important to note that these fractures in children can be the result of many causes other than physical abuse, however; the bones of children are delicate, and may be more susceptible to this type of injury caused by simple accidents. Studies suggest that an isolated spiral fracture alone is not necessarily an indication of abuse.