A fracture is a term used to describe a break in a bone. A fracture can range from a hairline crack through to complete displacement of the bone. A fracture can also be comminuted meaning there are multiple pieces to it.
The femur (thighbone) extends between the hip and the knee. Being the longest bone in the body and supporting the weight of the body, the femur is a thick bone surrounded by strong muscles. A break to the femur typically requires significant force.
A tibia fracture is a break to the bone also known as the shinbone. This bone extends between the knee and the ankle. Like the femur fracture above, this is a strong bone and fracture usually requires significant force.
Breaks are generally the result of traumatic injury such as car accidents, being hit by a car, or falls from a height. Tibial fractures are also seen occasionally in sports such as AFL, rugby or soccer.
- Inability to weight bear
- Visible deformity
- Broken bone fragments can pierce the skin
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above following an injury to your leg, you should see your doctor or present to the emergency department.
Your doctor will ask specific questions regarding your injury and symptoms. Your doctor will perform an examination of the injured leg. An x-ray will confirm the diagnosis. A CT Scan may be required to provide a clearer picture.
Injuries to the femur are often the result of high impact and are generally treated via the emergency department in conjunction with other injuries. Femoral fractures almost always require surgery. Most commonly a rod is placed down the centre of the bone to align the fragments and allow early joint motion and weight bearing. Occasionally a metal plate and screws might be used.
Initial tibia fractures will generally require emergency treatment due to pain and inability to weight bear.
Your surgeon will determine if your tibial fracture requires surgery. Tibial fractures that do not require surgery will be immobilised with a cast or brace. You will not be able to weight bear for a period of several weeks while your bone heals. The cast may be need to be changed once the swelling subsides.
Where your surgeon determines surgery is required, in most cases a rod is placed down the middle of the bone, but sometimes a plate and screws can be used. Occasionally, external fixation may be required on the outside of the leg to hold the bone together. The leg will often not b immobilised with a cast after surgery, but you will generally not be able to weight bear for several weeks. Physiotherapy may be prescribed to help you regain strength in the leg as well as full mobility of the hip, knee and ankle joints.
Possible complications of fractures to the leg bones are:
- Nonunion (bones not healing)
- Infection – particularly with external fixation
- Blood clots and embolisms
- Injury to the nerves and blood vessels