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Broken Leg

What is a broken leg?

A broken leg may be a break in the bone in your upper leg or one or both of the bones in your lower leg.

  • The bone in your upper leg is called the femur, or thighbone. It extends from your hip to your knee.
  • Your lower leg contains 2 bones: the tibia and the fibula. The tibia is the larger bone on the inner side of your leg. The fibula is the smaller bone on the outer side of your leg.

Fracture is another word for a crack or a break in a bone. There are several types of fractures:

  • Simple: There is 1 fracture line, and the bone is broken into 2 pieces.
  • Comminuted: There is more than 1 fracture line, and there are more than 2 bone fragments at the fracture site.
  • Open (compound): An end of the bone has broken through the skin.
  • Closed: The fracture has not broken the skin, and the break is not exposed to the outside.
  • Pathological: The bone has been weakened or destroyed by disease so that it breaks easily.
  • Stress: There is a hairline crack in a bone, sometimes not even visible on an X-ray, caused by repeated injury or stress on the bone.

How does it occur?

Leg fractures can occur in many ways such as falls, direct blows, and overuse. Sometimes diseases or problems such as osteoporosis can cause bones to become weak and break more easily.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a leg fracture include:

  • pain
  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • limited range of motion
  • pain made worse by movement
  • grating of bone ends
  • muscle spasm during slight movement
  • inability to walk
  • misshapen leg.

If you have an open wound over the site of a leg fracture, it is especially important to get medical care right away.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how you hurt your leg. Your provider will examine your leg and check your foot to see if vessels or nerves are damaged. He or she may also examine your knee to see if you hurt your knee. You will have an X-ray.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will need to set the bones back into the correct position. Sometimes this requires surgery. Your leg may need to be set in a splint or cast to keep it from moving.

If there is an open wound over the site of the leg fracture, you may need surgery. Your provider will cleanse the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing. You may need to have a tetanus shot and need to take antibiotics for several days.

You may need to use crutches or a cane for awhile. Your provider will tell you when to start putting full weight on your leg again.

Because you will not be moving your leg for awhile, it can cause the joints to stiffen and muscles to weaken, even in some uninjured areas of your body. Part of your treatment will be doing simple range-of-motion exercises to keep the uninjured parts of your body healthy. You will also learn isometric exercises to strengthen the injured part. Isometric exercises are done without moving any joints. You create tension by contracting the muscle, holding the tension, and then releasing it without moving the joint.

How long will the effects last?

The time needed to heal depends on the type of fracture, where it is, and your treatment.

How can I take care of myself?

To help take care of yourself, follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Also, follow these guidelines:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Keep your leg above your heart when possible to reduce swelling.

Call your healthcare provider right away if:

  • You have unusual warmth, redness, or swelling above or below the fracture.
  • You have a fever higher than 101.5° F (38.6° C).
  • Your toenails or feet become and stay blue or grey even though you are keeping your leg elevated.
  • You have numbness or a complete loss of feeling in the skin below the fracture.
  • You have pain that is getting worse and is not relieved by pain pills.

What can be done to help prevent a broken leg?

Accidents are often the cause of a broken leg and cannot always be prevented. However, you can help prevent leg injuries by:

  • wearing proper, correctly fitting shoes when you exercise
  • gently stretching before and after physical activities such as aerobics, running, and sports
  • working and playing safely.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-10
Last reviewed: 2011-06-12
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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