A broken leg can be a painful and scary injury. It can lead to significant loss of function and may interrupt normal work and recreational activity. A leg fracture, if not properly cared for, may cause long-lasting impairments such as loss of range of motion (ROM) or decreased strength.
Many people wonder if a broken leg and a fractured leg mean the same thing. They do. If your doctor tells you that you have fractured your thigh bone, it means that your thigh has been broken.
Leg fractures are almost always caused by trauma to the body. Falling, athletic injuries or motor vehicle accidents can all cause a bone in your leg to break.
Symptoms include, but are not limited to, pain, difficulty walking, bruising, discoloration and swelling, or an obvious deformity in the leg. If you suspect you have a broken leg, knee, ankle or foot, you must seek medical attention right away. Call your doctor or go to your local emergency department to get an accurate diagnosis of your problem and receive proper treatment. Failure to do so can lead to long-term disability and loss of function.
Initial treatment for a leg fracture includes reduction of the fracture and immobilization. Reduction is the process where the broken bones are put back into their correct position. This is often done manually, but a surgical procedure called an open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) may be necessary for severe fractures. Immobilization is the process of keeping the bones in place with the use of a cast or brace to ensure that proper healing takes place.
Once your fracture has sufficiently healed, you may be referred to a physical therapist to help improve your mobility and function. Your physical therapist can help you choose the right assistive device to help with walking during the early stages of healing, and he or she can guide you in the proper exercises to help improve strength and ROM after a fracture.
Below is a list of common fractures that can happen in your lower body.
1. Hip Fracture
A hip fracture is the most common broken bone that requires hospitalization. It usually occurs in older adults, and may be due to trauma like a fall. Occasionally, pathologic fractures, or fractures that occur as the result of bone weakening (such as in osteoporosis), may occur. Depending of the severity of the break, an ORIF procedure may be necessary to reduce a fracture in your hip.
Physical therapy involves improving hip ROM and strength in order to improve walking and mobility.
2. Femur Fracture
The femur, or thigh bone, is the longest bone in the body. It helps you walk, run and stand upright. Trauma to the shaft of your femur may cause it to break, leading to significant pain and functional loss. Pain, loss of ROM and strength after a femur fracture may affect the hip and knee.
3. Tibial Plateau Fracture
A tibial plateau fracture occurs when the knee is subjected to forceful twisting during a trauma. The tibial plateau is the place where your shin bone and your thigh bone come together in your knee. Occasionally, tibial plateau fractures require surgery. Since the tibial plateau is in the knee joint, significant loss of knee ROM and strength often result from a fracture here.
A tibia/fibula (tib/fib) fracture is a common fracture of the ankle bones. The tibia (shin bone) and fibula (bone on the outside part of your ankle) are located in the lower leg and help form part of your ankle joint. Occasionally, just one of the bones, either the tibia or fibula, is broken. If you have suffered a tib/fib fracture, you may require surgery.
Learn More: Physical Therapy after Ankle Fracture
A Jones fracture is a break in the fifth metatarsal of the foot. The fifth metatarsal is the long bone in your foot that connects to your pinky toe. Usually, minor trauma such as running or jumping causes a Jones fracture. A Jones fracture is often considered a stress fracture.
A Lisfranc fracture is a fracture and dislocation of the mid foot. The mid foot is the part of your foot between your ankle and your toes. Here, many of your foot bones come together to help your foot move properly. A Lisfranc fracture can happen when you twist your foot. Minor Lisfranc fractures are treated with immobilization in a cast or walking boot, but many Lisfranc injuries require surgery. Physical therapy involves improving ROM and strength of the foot and ankle to help improve walking function.