Orthopedics Fractures & Broken Bones Print Understanding Bone Fracture X-Rays By Jonathan Cluett, MD Updated June 21, 2019 Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician More in Orthopedics Fractures & Broken Bones Sprains & Strains Physical Therapy Orthopedic Surgery Osteoporosis Pediatric Orthopedics Sports Injuries Shoulder & Elbow Hip & Knee Hand & Wrist Leg, Foot & Ankle Assistive Devices & Orthotics Medication & Injections View All When a person has a bone fracture, one of the first things a person will want to know is how bad it is. To determine the severity and treatment/recovery time, doctors will typically perform an X-ray. In some cases, they may use other imaging techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic imaging resonance (MRI), particularly it is a pathologic fracture. This is a type of break caused not by trauma but as a result of a medical condition which weakens the bone. As a patient, you have the right to use to fully understand both your diagnosis and treatment options. To do so, you would be well served to understand the terminology used to describe a fracture. Describing the Fracture Location Jonathan Cluett, MD The anatomical location of a fracture is about more than just where the break is; it describes the structural characteristic of the break. To this end, doctors will typically use the following descriptive terms: Diaphyseal: the shaft (center) of the boneMetaphyseal: located toward one end of the bone but not at the jointPeri-articular: located on the joint surface at the end of the boneIntra-articular: a fracture which extends into the joint through the cartilageProximal: located closer to the center of the body at the upper end of the boneDistal: located further from the center of the body at the far end of the bone Fractures that involve the joint surface are usually treated aggressively as imperfections in the alignment can lead to accelerated arthritis in the joint. Describing Fracture Alignment Jonathan Cluett, MD The misalignment of a fracture tells us just how far out of position the bone has shifted. Doctors will describe this in the following terms: Non-displaced: where the bone is fractured but in perfect alignmentMinimally displaced: where there is a slight shift in the position, usually not significantDisplaced: where the bone has significantly shifted, the degree of which is described in percentagesDepression: an intra-articular (joint) fracture which has been pushed out of alignment with the boneAngulated: the angle by which the bones are misaligned, again described in degreesShortening: an effect caused when the surrounding muscles pull the bone ends together tightly, literally shortening the bone Diagnosing Severe Fractures SMC Images/Getty Images There are certain term doctors will use to describe fractures caused by a high-impact trauma such as a car accident or major fall. They include: Comminution: a break or splinter of the bone into more than two fragments (colloquially referred to as a "shattered" bone)Segmented: a bone break in which several large fragments separate from the main body of the bone Diagnosing Pathological Fractures Jonathan Cluett, MD Pathologic fractures are caused when a bone weakens due to a disease that either displaces bone matter or interferes with the normal metabolism (remodeling) of a bone. Doctors will often describe these abnormalities as follows: Osteopenia: a condition where the body doesn't make new bone as quickly as it reabsorbs old bone, oftentimes the result of a progressive disease like osteoporosisCystic: characterized by the formation of cysts as can happen with bone cancer and certain non-cancerous infectionsLesion: an unspecified abnormality which may be caused by bone damage or simply a past bone injury Monitoring Bone Repair ZEPHYR/Getty Images Broken bones usually show signs of healing within a few weeks of an injury. Doctors will describe this in terms that evaluate the progress of the repair. These include terms such as: Fracture Callous: new bone growth around a break considered a good sign that the bone fragments are reunitingConsolidation: another term used to describe the normal process of bone repair due to remodelingDelayed-union on Nonunion: when the broken bone is not healing properly due to poor circulation, infection, inadequate stabilization, or other causes Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Dealing with joint pain can cause major disruptions to your day. Sign up and learn how to better take care of your body. Click below and just hit send! Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources Marsh, J. "OTA Fracture Classification." Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma. 2009; 23(8):551. DOI: 10.1097/BOT.0b013e3181ad5e92.