Fractures to the thigh bone (femur) are rare but serious injuries. A stress fracture comes on gradually through overuse whilst an acute femur fracture is a sudden traumatic injury which is more likely caused by vehicle accidents or falls.
On this page:
- Stress fracture of the femur
- Acute femur fracture
Stress Fracture of the Femur
The femur bone is the long thigh bone. Prolonged overuse can cause a stress fracture known as a femoral stress fracture. Pain may come on gradually as a dull ache which intensifies if a bending force is applied to the femur. Rest is the key to recovering from this injury.
Symptoms of a femoral stress fracture
Symptoms of a stress fracture of the femur include a dull ache deep in the general area of the thigh. There is likely to be a pain when a bending force is applied to the femur, known as the hang test or possibly when the patient allows the thigh to hang over the edge of a bench or chair, particularly if weight is then applied downwards onto the thigh. Pain may be referred into the knee. An X-ray may or may not show up the stress fracture but a bone scan or MRI should give a more accurate diagnosis.
What is a stress fracture of the femur?
The femur bone is the long thigh bone. Prolonged overuse can cause a stress fracture. This is known as a femoral stress fracture. As with any bone, the Femur can also be fractured through one sudden force (see fractured femur).
Rest is important, particularly resting from weight-bearing activities. Maintain fitness by swimming or cycling. Identification of any biomechanical problems such as overpronation which may have contributed to the stress on the femur.
Depending on the severity it should take 7 weeks from the time that the ‘hang test’ (over the edge of the chair) is not painful before a gradual return to sports specific training can begin.
Acute Femur Fracture
A femur fracture is a broken thigh bone. Fractures of the Femur can be either a stress fracture which comes on over time through repetitive strain or a traumatic fracture resulting from a single impact or accident.
Symptoms of a Femur Fracture
See stress fracture of the femur for more detailed information on a gradual onset femur fracture.
A traumatic femur fracture is usually fairly obvious from an accident or severe impact. The patient will feel severe pain in the thigh. There may be deformity in the thigh for, example, the leg may be at an angle or the injured leg appearing shorter than the other. A considerable amount of swelling may be visible and the patient will be unable to move their leg.
It is important to look out for signs of injury to other structures, such as blood vessels and nerves. These include immediate bruising, a cold or pale lower leg or foot which might indicate restricted circulation. Tingling or numbness in the lower leg or foot could indicate nerve damage.
Broken femur causes
Traumatic femur fractures occur from one specific force. It takes a lot of force to break the femur as it is a very strong, thick bone. For this reason, fractures of the femur are most frequently seen in road traffic accidents and falls from a great height. They are not frequently seen in sports.
They may occasionally be seen in the elderly, especially those affected by Osteoporosis. Due to the amount of force required, a broken thigh bone may be associated with other injuries or complications and should be thoroughly assessed.
Femur fracture treatment
The type of treatment received depends on the extent of the damage and the age of the patient.
- In young children, casting the leg to immobilize it may be sufficient.
- In adults and adolescents, casting is not usually recommended unless the leg is placed in traction.
Due to the length of hospital stay required for this form of treatment, as well as early mobilisation, improving healing time and reducing complications, this form of treatment is rarely used. Surgical fixation tends to be used most frequently. This may involve pinning or plating the two sections of bone together to aid healing and ensure alignment. Once the bone is healed, the plate or pins are usually removed.
Femur fracture recovery time
Generally, a thigh bone fracture will take 3-6 months to heal completely. A thorough rehabilitation program should be undertaken to regain full movement, strength, and balance.