Most of us have memories of our leg being cast in our childhood or knowing someone who has had to hobble around in one. Studies show that “the average citizen in a developed country can expect to sustain two fractures over the course of their lifetime.
The human leg is essentially made up of three bones, namely, femur (thigh bone) in the upper leg above the knee, tibia (shin bone) and fibula (the smaller outer bone running parallel to the tibia) in the lower leg. A ‘fracture’ occurs whenever a bone breaks or cracks.
There are various types of fractures. Broadly, these can be summarised as follows:
A non-displaced leg fracture occurs when the bone cracks or breaks, but stays in place.This is sometimes referred to as a ‘simple’ fracture.
A displaced fracture is when the bones break into 2 or more pieces.
Lastly, an open or compound fracture is when the bone breaks and tears through the skin.
A femur fracture is strong and therefore, takes a lot of force to fracture the bone in people who are otherwise healthy. A person is highly likely to survive a femur fracture when he/she has a high-impatc trauma. For instance, during automobile accidents, falls from high places, gunshot wounds to the thigh or industrial accidents. If a person suffers a femur fracture as a consequence of low-impact bump, he/she may be suffering from an illness such as cancer or osteoporosis.
Femur fractures can lead to dangerous and life-threating complications such as immense bleeding inside the thigh that may lead to a blood loss of one quart or more. Femur fractures may also trigger the formation of blood clots within the large veins of the thigh. If the clots break and travel through the bloodstream, there is a likelihood of them lodging in the lungs, thereby creating a life-threatening condition, which is also called pulmonary embolism.
Among children, femur fractures tend to happen because of fall from high places, such as tree. In adults, femur fractures usually occur due to motor vehicle and industrial accidents. The number of femur fractures as a result of gunshot wounds has risen significantly in the last few years.
The tibia (shinbone) is the larger of the two bones of the lower leg. Tibia fractures can occur as a result of direct, high-impact trauma that is most likely to occcur during motor vehicle accidents. The tibia, however, can also be fractured from a low impact trauma if the lower leg is bent or twisted at the right angle. Of all the long bones in the body, the tibia is most likely to be fractured or broken through the skin after a fracture. This increases the risk of infection at the site of the fracture and may also prevent normal healing. The sharp ends of a broken tibia can cut into nearby nerves and blood vessels and cause serious damage to soft tissues inside the lower leg.
It has been noted that about 75% to 85% of the patients with tibia fractures have their fibula (thin bone at the outer side of lower leg) fractured as well.
The fibula is the smaller bone that runs parallel to the tibia on the outside of the lower leg. The fibula usually gets fractured at the same time as the tibia does. The fibula usually fractures as a result of direct blow to the side of the leg or extreme sideways bend at the knee or ankle. If only the fibula fractures, it is usually not a result of long-term complications.
When only the fibula fractures, it does not cause long-term complications. In fact, when in rare cases, the segments of the broken bone are separated by injury, one of the nerves to the foot get injured, causing foot drop i.e. a condition in which the foot hangs at the ankle and drags along on the ground.
Read more articles on Health A-Z.