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What's the Difference Between a Fracture and a Break?

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Updated March 28, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

broken wrist

Deformity is often a sign of a broken bone, otherwise known as a fracture.

(c) Sabrina Cherry
Question: What's the Difference Between a Fracture and a Break?
When my son was in freshman football, he broke his leg in practice. Upon his return to school, his coach asked him, "Did you break it, or is it just a fracture?" My son's response resulted in a phone call between me and the coach, because the coach didn't like the answer.
Answer: There's no difference.

A fracture is any loss of continuity of bone. Anytime the bone loses integrity — whether that's a hairline crack or the shattering of bone into a dozen pieces — it's considered a fracture. A broken bone is a fractured bone, and vice versa.

If you had a crack in your car windshield and I asked how long it had been broken, would you correct me? Would you say it's not broken, it's just a fracture? Probably not. In fact, you'd probably tell me about the rock that did the deed on the freeway. Most of the time, we all use the terms fracture and break interchangeably. It's the same in the medical field.

On the other hand, there is a difference between a sprain and a fracture, but you might not be able to tell without an x-ray.

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