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Leg Fracture


What is a leg fracture?

A leg fracture is a break in any of the 3 long bones of your leg. The femur is the largest bone and goes from your hip to your knee. The fibula and tibia are the 2 bones in your lower leg that go from your knee to your ankle.

Adult Leg Bones

What causes a leg fracture?

A leg fracture is often caused by an injury. Car and sports accidents are common causes of leg fractures. Stress fractures can occur from repetitive use or overuse. Stress fractures are tiny cracks that form in long bones, such as your tibia. Osteoporosis (brittle bones) can increase your risk for a leg fracture if you fall.

What are the signs and symptoms of a leg fracture?

  • Pain that worsens when you stand on or move your injured leg
  • Trouble moving your leg
  • Abnormal leg position or shape
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Weakness or loss of feeling in your leg

How is a leg fracture diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask how you injured your leg. He or she will examine your leg. He or she may touch areas of your leg to see if you have decreased feeling. The provider will also check for any open breaks in the skin. You may an x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI. You may be given contrast liquid to help the fracture show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a leg fracture treated?

Treatment depends on what kind of fracture you have and how bad it is. You may need any of the following:

  • A brace, cast, or splint may be placed on your leg to decrease your leg movement and hold the broken bones in place. These devices may help decrease pain and prevent further bone damage.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • External fixation is surgery to put screws through your skin and into your broken bones. The screws will be secured to a device that is placed outside of your leg. External fixation holds your bones together so they can heal. You may still need open surgery on your leg to fix injured areas after the external fixation is removed.
  • Open reduction and internal fixation may be done to put your bones back into the correct position. This may include the use of special wires, pins, plates or screws. These help keep the broken pieces lined up so your leg can heal correctly.
  • Traction may be needed if your bone broke into 2 pieces. Traction pulls on the bones to put them back into place. A pin may be put in your bone or cast and hooked to the traction device. Weights are hung from the traction device to help pull the bones into the right position.

What can I do to help my leg fracture heal?

  • Rest your leg as directed and avoid activities that cause leg pain.
  • Apply ice on your leg for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Elevate your leg above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your leg on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Use crutches or a walker as directed. Crutches will help you walk and take some weight off your injured leg while it heals.
  • Physical therapy may be recommended. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • The pain in your injured leg gets worse even after you rest and take medicine.
  • Your cast gets wet or damaged.
  • Your leg or toes are numb.
  • The skin or toes of your injured leg become swollen, cold, or blue.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your cast or brace is too tight.
  • There are new blood stains or a bad smell coming from under the cast.
  • You have new or worsening trouble moving your leg.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.