An X-ray showing a fractured clavicle.

Breaking bones

Even healthy bones can break if exposed to great enough forces, but different factors affect the risk of fracture 

Everyone falls over sometimes, and we usually put out our hands to try and recover, so our wrist bones are the ones that get broken most often. However, some of us are more likely to break bones than others. This is down to several factors, which also influence the types of fractures we’re likely to experience.

Age

Children sometimes break their collarbones (clavicles) because the bone does not fully undergo calcification – that is, harden to peak strength – until the teenage years. Because their bones are bendier than adults’, children also suffer more greenstick fractures, where a bone bends and partially breaks. Adults are more likely to suffer clean breaks or shattered bones, especially if they develop osteoporosis, which tends to occur in older adults (and particularly in women after the menopause).

Disease

Fractures caused by disease are known as pathological fractures, and occur when a bone’s strength and integrity are compromised. While osteoporosis is the most common cause, there are many other diseases that may result in bone fragility, such as bone cancer. Bone tumours and cysts, inherited bone conditions, and infections can all also lead to fractures, as they result in lower levels of stress being needed to cause a break.

Nutrition

As discussed in ‘Thinning bones’, nutrition is an important factor in bone health. Poor nutrition will increase the chances of a break, while good nutrition has the opposite effect. Careful food choices when recovering from a fracture can speed up the repair process.

Genetics

Our genes also affect our bone strength. A person’s genetic make-up may make them more prone to fractures, possibly as a result of a hereditary disease, or even just by leaving them with weaker bone composition compared to other people. 

Lead image:

An X-ray showing a fractured clavicle.

Wellcome Images

References

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Exercise, Energy and Movement’ in January 2012 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Topics:
Physiology, Health, infection and disease
Issue:
Exercise, Energy and Movement
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development