Lower Leg Fracture (Broken Leg)

A lower leg fracture, or broken leg, refers to the break of one or both of the bones in the lower leg: the tibia and fibula. The tibia, which is the larger, weight-bearing bone of the lower leg, is the most common broken long bone. However, the fibula, which is the smaller of the two bones, can also break.

Many times, when the larger tibia bone is fractured, the smaller fibula is also fractured.

Causes of broken leg

Trauma to, or an unnatural rotation of the tibia or fibula, can cause a broken leg. Most lower leg fractures occur following an accident or sporting injury, but occasionally overuse causes small cracks in the bone; these are known as stress fractures. It typically takes a lot of force to break the tibia; however, bones weakened by osteoporosis and other diseases may break with less force.

Common causes of a lower leg fracture include: 

  • Car, truck, motorcycle, or other motor vehicle accidents. 
  • Contact sports (especially in football, soccer, and rugby). 
  • Other traumatic blows to the lower leg. 
  • Overuse, including overtraining (can cause stress fracture). 
  • Severe twist of leg.
  • Skiing accidents. 
  • Slips and falls.

Lower leg fracture symptoms

In many cases, the major symptoms of a lower leg fracture will be obvious. However, there are situations where it is difficult to determine if the leg is actually broken. In these cases, an X-ray is needed to determine if there is a fracture. The main symptoms of a broken leg include: 

  • Bone Protrusion: If your leg's bone has broken through your skin, you have a compound fracture. 
  • Leg Deformity: If your leg appears to bend at the point of injury instead of just at the knee or if the bottom portion of your leg is twisted, these are significant signs that it is broken. Also, if your injured leg suddenly seems shorter than your uninjured leg, you may have a fracture. 
  • Pain: A leg fracture usually causes severe pain. Typically this pain will diminish if the bone is held in place and will increase if the bone is moved.
  • Swelling and bruising: Although these can be a sign of a sprain or other injury, swelling and bruising around the injured area of your leg could indicate that it is broken.

Treatment for a broken lower leg

The treatment for a fracture of the lower leg will vary based on the severity of the injury and the location of the break. Some fractures can best be repaired through surgery and other broken legs can be healed without the need for surgery.

Non-surgical treatment

In some cases, the bone has been displaced and must be realigned prior to immobilization. This process is referred to as reduction. Prior to reduction, you will be given medication for pain relief and muscle relaxation.

Immobilization is the usual course of treatment for a broken leg. When surgery is not needed, the leg is immobilized through the use of a plaster cast or splint. This will allow the bone to be "set" and to have a chance to heal.

Surgical treatment

If reduction and immobilization cannot be achieved through non-surgical treatment, you may need surgery to repair the fracture. In these cases, screws, wires, plates, or stitches may be used to "set" the bone internally. Whether you have surgical or non-surgical treatment of your broken leg, your doctor may prescribe the use of crutches or a cane to help you walk during the healing process.