Back to Basics: Fracture Terminology

Using basic terminology, you should be able to describe any fracture to your consults without embarrassing yourself.

Open vs Closed – open fracture break the skin, closed fracture do not

Location of the Fracture - Midshaft vs Proximal Third vs Distal Third

Intra-articular – if the fracture extends into a joint


Transverse - straight across the bone

Oblique - oblique line across the bone

Spiral – cork-screw twisting fracture

Comminuted – more than 2 parts with splintering or shattering

Segmental – a single free-floating segment between two well-defined fracture lines


Displacement  - Extent to which fracture fragments are off set from each other

Describes the direction of displacement of the distal fragment relative to the proximal fragment – can be measured directly or given as a percent of the width of the bone

Separation - the degree to which to fragments are pulled apart

Shortening - a measurement of the reduction in bone length by impaction (telescoping of two fragments into each other) vs overriding (the overlap of two completely displaced fragments)

Angulation – degrees and direction to convey the amount of “unbending” needed to realign the fragments. Specifying the direction of deviation of the distal fragment is the most consistent way to describe the direction.

These basic terms will help you describe most fractures to your consults.  



fracture terminology from Alexis Pelletier-Bui on Vimeo.


1.  Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 8e. pg1780-178

2.  Describing a fracture (an approach). Dr. Craig Hackinget al.

3.  First Aid Fractures, Sprains and Strains. Digital Image. Open vs Closed Fracture.

4.  Types of bone fractures. Digital image. New Health Advisor.