A broken leg is the term used to describe a fracture of any of the three bones which form the leg. The Tibia bone and Fibula bone in the lower leg are more commonly injured than the thigh bone or femur.
Instant pain following an impact or force on the leg which will require hospital treatment is most common, although a fracture of the fibula bone has been known through over use as in the case of Manteo Mitchell the US sprinter at the 2012 London Olympics. The athlete will experience constant pain which will be worse when trying to move the leg. There will be tenderness around the site of the fracture along with deformity. A very severe fracture where the bone pierces the skin is known as a compound fracture. Swelling and bruising are likely.
A femur fracture is a fracture of the big thigh bone or femur. A broken leg from a femur fracture is rare and is usually the result of a car accident or similar. A stress fracture of the femur is more likely injury to this bone for an athlete. A femur fracture is one of the slowest bones to heal because of the very poor blood supply. See femur fracture for more information.
A tibia fracture is a break in the big lower leg shin bone. This bone is strong and its function is weight bearing. A fracture is usually the result of direct impact although stress fractures of the shin are more common.
The fibula is the smaller bone of the lower leg. Its function is to to provide attachments for the muscles of the lower leg as opposed to weight bearing like the tibia. Again fibula fractures can occur as a result of direct trauma or through a stress fracture.
If a broken bone is suspected seek medical attention immediately. An X-ray should be taken to confirm the injury and determine the extent of the damage. The doctor will also check that there is no associated injury to the nerves or blood vessels in the area. Simple checks for sensation and pulse can do this.
In most cases a plaster cast is applied to the leg to immobilize the bones whilst they heal. This is usually worn for 6-8 weeks. In cases where the bone has broken into more than one piece or when the fracture is open or displaced, surgery may be required. Surgery is used to bring the bones back together and hold them in place with pins or wires. The leg is then placed in a cast as above. After the cast is removed, the patient should follow a rehabilitation programme to regain full strength and movement in the leg.