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Broken Leg


Disease: Broken Leg Broken Leg
Category: Bones, joints, muscles diseases
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Disease Definition:

A broken leg is a break or crack in one of the bones of the leg. A broken leg could be a severe shattering break due to a serious car accident, or it may be a simple hairline stress fracture, which is a quite common condition in runners.

Immediate medical attention should be sought in case a person shows any signs or symptoms of a broken leg, particularly after a motor vehicle accident or a fall. To heal completely, prompt diagnosis and treatment is very important.

The exact site and severity of the injury are the factors on which the right type of treatment depends on. Some injuries could be treated with a cast or splint until they’re completely healed, while other severe injuries may require surgery in order to implant devices into the broken bone, so that a proper alignment could be maintained during the healing process.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


The most noticeable of broken bones in the leg is a broken thighbone. Some of the common signs and symptoms of a broken leg are:

  • Obvious deformity or shortening of the affected leg
  • An inability to walk, or a limited range of motion
  • Tenderness, bruising and swelling
  • Severe pain that may worsen with movement

Toddlers or young children with a broken leg may simply stop walking, even though they can't explain why.

A broken leg should be promptly treated, meaning that a person should seek medical help without any delays in order to avoid poor healing or other complications.
In the case of a car or motorcycle accident, or other high impact traumas that result in a fracture, emergency medical attention should be sought. Fracture of the thighbone is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires prompt medical care in order to protect the affected area from further damage and to safely transfer the patient to a hospital.


The three major bones of the leg are:

The femur (thighbone):

To break the femur, a great amount of force is required because this bone is the longest and strongest bone in the body.

The tibia (shinbone):

The tibia is the most commonly broken long bone in the body. It is also the major weight-bearing bone in the lower leg. The portion of the bone that attaches to the knee joint or ankle joint may be broken in the shinbone, or it may break across its length.

The fibula:

In ankle injuries, this is the most commonly broken bone. It runs alongside the tibia below the knee.

Some of the most common causes of broken legs are:

Significant trauma:

Most shinbone fractures occur when the knees are jammed against the dashboard during an accident. However, a motor vehicle accident may be the cause of the fracture of all three bones of the leg.


Tiny cracks develop in the weight-bearing bones of the body, such as the tibia, in a condition known as stress fractures. Those Stress fractures happen during jumping, running long distances, ballet dancing or marching and they are usually caused by overuse or repetitive force. However, the normal use of a bone that has been weakened by osteoporosis or other conditions may also develop stress fractures.

Sports injuries:

A broken leg may be the result of extending the leg too much during contact sports. Other causes include falling while biking or climbing, or a direct blow such as from an opponent’s body or a hockey stick.


The shinbone or the thighbone may become fractured due to a fall. These fractures occur in toddlers if they fall down the stairs while learning how to walk or if they fall over a toy, while in children, these fractures occur for instance if they fall on the playground.

Child abuse:

A broken leg in children may indicate child abuse.

Some of the factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing stress fractures include having certain health conditions and participating in certain physical activities, especially contact sports.
Additionally, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and flat feet or high-arched feet are some of the health conditions that may end up causing stress fractures.



Some of the complications that a broken leg may cause include:


If a person has an open fracture, the bone may become infected due to its exposure to fungi and bacteria.

Nerve or blood vessel damage:

when a person experiences any circulation problems or numbness, he/she should seek immediate medical care because the fracture may have injured adjacent nerves and blood vessels.

Pain in the ankle or knee:

Pain may be experienced in the ankle or knee due to a broken bone in the leg.

Unequal leg length:

The long bones of a child grow from the ends of the bones, in softer areas called growth plates. The affected limb may ultimately become shorter or longer than the opposite limb in case a fracture goes through a growth plate.

Compartment syndrome:

In some high-impact injuries, such as a car or motorcycle accident, a rare neuromuscular complication may occur causing swelling, pain and in some cases disability in the muscles near the broken bone.

Poor or delayed healing:

An open fracture of the tibia may not heal quickly or completely due to its reduced blood flow. A fracture may also take a longer time to heal and have a risk of nonunion in case the patient uses tobacco.


A person should see a doctor if their leg starts hurting long after a break because poor bone alignment or fractures that extend into the joint may cause osteoarthritis.


Based on the type of the break, the treatment of a broken leg varies. Below are the categories that explain the types of fractures:

Incomplete fracture:
In this condition, the bone is cracked, but it isn’t completely separated into two parts.

Compound or open fracture:
The broken bone pierces the skin in this type of fracture. In order to decrease the risk of an infection, this serious injury requires immediate and aggressive treatment.

Closed fracture:
The surrounding skin will remain intact in closed fractures.

Greenstick fracture:
Just like when a person tries to break a green stick of wood, in this type the bone will crack without breaking all the way through. Because the bones of children are softer and more flexible than those of adults, most broken bones in children are greenstick fractures.

Complete fracture:
The affected bone breaks into two or more parts in a complete fracture.

Comminuted fracture:
The bone will be broken into several pieces in this type of fracture, and to achieve complete healing, surgery will be required.

Displaced fracture:
The bone fragments on each side of the break won’t be aligned in this type of fracture, requiring surgery.

Usually, the initial treatment of a broken leg will begin in an emergency room. The doctors will immobilize the leg with a splint after evaluating it. In a process called reduction, the broken pieces will be manipulated back into their proper positions before applying a splint in case the fracture is a displaced one. Before this procedure, the patient may be given a muscle relaxant, a sedative or even a general anesthesia, depending on the amount of pain and swelling.

In order to allow the bone to heal completely, restricting its movement is very important. This could be done with a cast or a splint. Additionally, to keep weight off the affected leg, the patient may need to use crutches or a cane for about six to eight weeks, sometimes even longer.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen  or a combination of the two may be very helpful in reducing pain and inflammation. The patient may also be prescribed an opioid medication such as codeine in the case of severe pain.

In order to reduce the stiffness and restore movement in the injured leg, rehabilitation exercises or physical therapy will be needed after the cast or splint has been removed. The patient may experience stiffness and weakened muscles in the injured areas because the leg hasn’t moved for some time. To allow the complete healing of severe injuries, rehabilitation is very important, which may take up to several months or longer.

Most broken bones are healed by immobilization. However, to maintain a proper position of the bones during healing, internal fixation devices may need to be implanted, such as screws, plates or rods. Listed below are the fractures that require internal fixation devices:

  • A fracture in particular areas of the leg, such as the thighbone
  • Fractures that extend into a joint
  • Loose bone fragments that may enter a joint
  • An unstable or displaced fracture
  • A fracture resulting from a crushing accident
  • Damage to surrounding ligaments
  • Multiple fractures

Some internal fixation materials may be removed after the bone heals, while some of them are made of materials that are absorbed into the body, and some of them are left in place. Lack of bone healing, infection and wound-healing difficulties are some of the rare complications of this method.

An external fixation device may also be recommended in some cases. This device is like a frame outside the leg; it is attached to the bone with pins and provides stability during the healing process. Usually, after about six to eight weeks, this device will be removed. Infection around the surgical pins that are connected to the external fixation device is one of the complications of this method.


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