A fractured bone in a living person is typically treated by immobilization with a plaster or fiberglass cast, and in some cases surgical nails, screws, plates and wires to supplement a cast. Occasionally smaller bones, such as toes, may be treated without the cast, by buddy wrapping them, which serves a similar function to making a cast. By allowing only limited movement, fixation helps preserve anatomical alignment while enabling callus formation, towards the target of achieving union. Operative methods of treating fractures have their own risks and benefits and should be carefully considered before surgery.
In medicine, fractures are classified as closed or open (compound) and simple or comminuted. Closed fractures are fractures where the skin is intact and there is no bone poking out while open (compound) fractures involve wounds that expose bone. These carry an elevated risk of infection and require urgent surgical treatment. The only method of accurately diagnosing a closed fracture is by having an X-Ray photograph taken of the injury. Simple fractures are fractures that occur along one line, splitting the bone into two pieces while comminuted fractures involve the bone splitting into multiple pieces. A simple, closed fracture is much easier to treat and has a much better prognosis than a open, comminuted fracture. Another thing which must be determined is if there is any displacement or angulation of the bone. This requires the bone to be reset prior to treatment, and, in adults, frequently requires surgical care. Often these take longer to heal then injuries without displacement or angulation. In children, whose bones are still developing, there is the risk of a greenstick fracture. This type of fracture occurs because the bone is not as brittle as it would be in an adult, and thus does not completely fracture, but exhibits bowing without complete disruption of the cortex.