Find information on medical topics, symptoms, drugs, procedures, news and more, written in everyday language.

Leg Fractures

by Danielle Campagne, MD

Leg fractures occur in one or more of the three long bones in the legs: the thighbone (femur), the shinbone (tibia), and the smaller bone in the lower leg (fibula).

Thighbone (Femur) Fractures

The thighbone is the largest bone in the leg. Fractures may occur in the long middle part (shaft). The top of thighbone forms part of the hip joint. Thus, fractures in this area are considered hip fractures (see Hip Fractures).

Fractures of the shaft usually result from great force because this bone is so strong. These fractures are usually caused by falls from a height, high-speed car crashes, or collision of a car with a pedestrian.

Symptoms

When the shaft is broken, the thigh is swollen, and the leg looks distorted and often shorter. People cannot stand or walk. They may lose a substantial amount of blood, sometimes resulting in dangerously low blood pressure (shock).

Diagnosis

  • X-rays

Although fractures of the shaft may be obvious based on symptoms and the circumstances, doctors take x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Because these fractures usually result from great force, doctors also check for other injuries.

Treatment

  • A splint or traction device

  • Surgery to realign the broken bones

A splint or special device to provide traction is applied to immobilize the leg, usually before the person is transported to the hospital. Then, as soon as possible, surgery is done to align the broken pieces and hold them in place with metal rods or plates. This procedure is called open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF—see Fractures, Dislocations, and Sprains:Surgery). Soon after surgery, most people begin to walk with crutches.