Dr. Burns has over 20 years’ experience caring for patients with fractures (broken bones) in St. Louis. DePaul Hospital is a Level II trauma center, and she assists the hospital with management of fractures, from simple to complex. Dr. Burns and her team work hard to ensure that patients will get the best treatment and the fastest recovery after injury or accident, whether it is surgery, casting, or bracing.


Some of the most common fractures that Dr. Burns treats are fractures of the shoulder, wrist, hip, and ankle.

What is the difference between a fracture and a break?

There is no difference. Both are broken bones. Sometimes laypeople (non-medical people) will use the term “fracture” to indicate a crack in the bone that is not displaced, but a fracture IS a broken bone for medical professionals.

How do I know if I have a broken bone (fracture)?

The best way to quickly determine whether a bone is broken is with an x-ray. Often after a fracture, the area will be bruised, swollen or tender. In the case of a displaced fracture, there may be deformity (abnormal shape or contour) in the affected limb. Crunching or popping may indicate shifting of the broken bones. Occasionally, the crack in the bone may be subtle and require advanced imaging such as MRI or CT scan to determine if the bone is broken.

What are some signs that my bone is broken?

  • Intense pain at the injured area that gets worse if you try to move it
  • Inability to walk or put weight on the injured limb
  • Bluish color, swelling, or visible deformity
  • Bone protruding through or just under the skin
  • Crunching, shifting, or popping of the injured area

What are some first aid tips for a broken bone?

  • Stop any bleeding by applying pressure with a sterile bandage or clean cloth. If bleeding is excessive and you are trained, applying a tourniquet may also be necessary.
  • Immobilize the injured area. Stay as still as possible, and if you are able to support the broken area with a splint or brace, that can also reduce pain and stabilize the break until you are able to seek medical treatment.
  • Apply ice or cold packs, which can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Get professional help as soon as possible. If the suspected break is in the spine, do not move the person. Wait for EMS to arrive. With an acute injury, urgent care or emergency department may be the fastest way to get an x-ray and a splint or cast to support the break.
  • SSM Orthopedics can often accommodate same day or next day appointments.

How long will it take to heal a broken bone?

Broken bones typically take 3-6 months to heal in adults, depending on the location and severity of the break. Children and teenagers will often heal more quickly. Most broken bones in the leg require at least 4-6 weeks of non-weight bearing, in which crutches or a walker are used to avoid putting weight on the broken bone.

How will my broken bone be fixed?

Surgery can help patients heal better and faster after a broken bone. Often a bone that is stabilized with surgery will unite (heal) more quickly and in better alignment than if treated without surgery. Surgeons will often call this type of surgery “ORIF” which means open reduction and internal fixation of the fracture. How your fracture is fixed will depend on which bone is broken, the fracture pattern, and your surgeon’s preference. Broken bones are often fixed with a plate and screws, or with a long rod down the inside of the bone called an intramedullary (IM) nail.

What are some common terms for broken bones, and what do they mean?

Your doctor may describe your fracture with different terms. This brief list may help you understand more about your fracture (broken bone).

  • Closed: A fracture that does not have an open wound at the fracture site. There is no bleeding, skin laceration, or bone poking through the skin.
  • Open: A fracture that has a connection through to the outside through a cut or laceration through the skin. Open fractures may have bone poking through the skin, or just a laceration overlying the broken bone. Open fractures are often operative (require surgery), because the risk of infection is higher and/or because the broken bones are displaced (not well aligned). The older term for this type of fracture was “compound fracture” but is not usually used today.
  • Nondisplaced: This type of fracture (broken bone) is well aligned. Although there may be one or more cracks in the bone, the bone has maintained its’ original shape. Often bones that are nondisplaced can be treated without surgery.
  • Displaced: This type of fracture (broken bone) is out of alignment. Often people can see that there is visible deformity, and the arm or leg is not lined up properly. Broken bones that are significantly out of place or alignment will often require surgery for best results.
  • Comminuted: This is the medical word that indicates the break is in 3 or more pieces. Comminuted fractures are often unstable and require surgery. Occasionally comminuted fractures such as those that result from a gunshot wound (GSW) can be treated without surgery.
  • Pathologic: This word indicates that the broken bone is a result of some other abnormality of the bone that made the bone weak and prone to fracture, such as a cancerous growth in the bone (bony metastasis) or other condition that severely weakened the underlying bone, such as osteoporosis.