Broken Leg Overview
Your leg contains 4 bones (the femur, the patella, the tibia, and the fibula) and bends at the hip, the knee, and the ankle. After an accident, these bones may break (fracture) into 2 or more pieces.
If a broken bone has been exposed to the outside, either by a cut over the fracture or by bone sticking out through the skin, it is called an open fracture. This used to be referred to as a compound fracture.
A break in the leg may involve any of these bones:
- The femur is the bone in the thigh. It is the longest and strongest bone of the body. The upper part of the femur fits into the pelvis to form the hip joint. At this joint, it can move frontward, backward, sideways, and even rotate in and out. When people speak of a "broken hip," it is this upper part of the femur that is broken.
- The lower end of the femur rests on top of the tibia, forming the knee joint. At the knee, the leg can swing frontward, backward, and even rotate slightly.
- The kneecap (patella) glides back and forth in front of the knee joint. The kneecap suspends the ligaments from the thigh muscle and helps to add leverage for straightening out the leg.
- The tibia is the shinbone and supports the body's weight. The fibula runs alongside the tibia below the knee. It is on the outside part of the leg and is smaller than the tibia.
- The ankle is composed of the bottom ends of the tibia and fibula, the connecting foot bones, and the ligaments and tendons. Severe twisting injuries to the ankle can result in fractures of the tibia or fibula near or within the ankle joint.
Broken Leg Causes
It usually takes quite a bit of force to break the bones of the leg. Bones that have been weakened somehow can be broken more easily. If the amount of force put on a bone is greater than the amount it can handle, the bone will break.
- A leg can be broken through trauma, where there has been a large force or injury (examples: car, motorcycle, or all-terrain vehicle accidents, skiing injuries, and falls from heights).
- Injury can cause a bone to break if the bones have been weakened by disease such as cancer or other tumors, bone cysts, or osteoporosis.
- Sometimes, repetitive overuse of the leg, such as the movements in distance running, can result in a stress fracture.
Broken Leg Symptoms
The major symptoms of a broken leg are pain, swelling, and deformity. A broken leg can be very obvious but may require an x-ray to diagnose.
- Pain caused by a broken bone is typically severe. Holding the bone still will decrease pain. Movement of the broken bone will increase pain.
- Swelling and bruising over the area of a break are common.
- Deformity of the leg can occur in these forms:
- Shortening: The broken leg appears shorter than the unaffected leg.
- Rotation: The leg below the break is twisted.
- Angulation: The leg bends at the break instead of at the joint.