Patients are always concerned about the difference between a “break” and a “fracture.”   Almost every week, I see someone in my office who was told by the emergency room that they had a broken bone, and then when I casually remark that “yes, I can see your fracture,” the patient insists that it’s more than a fracture, it’s a break.

The reality is, that in orthopaedic parlance, a fracture and a break refer to the same thing.   It would seem that the word “fracture” denotes something less severe, somehow implying just a crack in the bone, as opposed to a complete break of several pieces.   However, the word “fracture” in the orthopaedic world is the term that is technical and accurate: it refers to any violation of a bone’s integrity.  In fact, the main textbook that has for decades been a reference for treating broken bones is entitled (quite simply) “Fractures.”   The term “break” is actually slang terminology for fracture, not the other way around.  Some fractures can certainly be just little “cracks;” while some fractures can look as though the bone exploded.  There are all types of additional words used to describe the particular feature of any fracture, used to indicate whether the bone ends are bent, separated, or in multiple pieces.  There can be incomplete (barely visible) fractures, mild “buckle” fractures, or severe “comminuted” fractures (many individual parts).

The bottom line is that a fracture and a break are the same thing.  A “break” is more likely to be a word used by newspapers writers, while a ”fracture” is the word that lives in orthopaedic textbooks.  So the next time you hear someone say, “Thank goodness it’s just a fracture and not a break,” you can smile and perhaps later explain that it’s either six of one or half a dozen of another.

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