Broken Leg

What is a Broken Leg?

When a person has a broken leg, the condition can refer to either a fracture or break in one of the bones in their leg. There are four bones in the leg and any one of them (or more than one of them) can be fractured or broken. These bones are the femur, tibia, fibula, and the patella.

The severity of a broken leg can vary a great deal. Smaller, thinner fractures, known as hairline fractures do not penetrate all the way through the thickness of the affected leg bone. More severe broken legs involve the leg bone or bones being broken into multiple separate pieces. These breaks may or may not penetrate all the way through the skin.

The most common cause of a broken leg is car, motorcycle, or other vehicular accident. However, falls particularly on stairs or at a steep incline or drop could also result in a broken leg. Sports injuries can also cause a leg break as can physical abuse (including domestic or child abuse), or overuse (known as a stress fracture).

Broken legs in elderly are more common due to the increase fragility of the bones and requires additional treatment to prevent serious complications.

What are the Symptoms of  a Broken Leg?

A cracking, popping, or snapping noise may be the first sign or symptom that a person is suffering from a broken leg. Pain is also one of the most prevalent symptoms. A person may have severe pain if they try to put weight or pressure on their leg or even be unable to walk. Other symptoms can include swelling, tenderness, bruising, and noticeable misshapenness or deformities.

Broken Leg Causes

A broken leg can be caused by a number of different factors, such as falls, impact from something heavy, missteps, child abuse, car accidents, and prolonged overuse of the bones. Sports injuries, like football tackles, can also cause broken legs, as well as hypertension of the leg in physical contact sports. When a fall occurs, it can fracture one or both of your lower legs.

There are also some medical conditions that could cause the bones to weaken, like osteoporosis. Repetitive movements on the leg could also cause broken bones, such as playing basketball, soccer, or simply running.

 How is a Broken Leg Treated?

Broken leg treatments depend on which of the bones are affected and the severity of the break or fracture. If, for example, the fracture is very small, rest, painkillers, and physical therapy may effectively treat the broken leg. However, if a break is more severe or extensive, surgery, immobilization through casts and splints, or even external fixation devices (frames on the outside of the body attached to the bone through pins) may be necessary.

Exercise, calcium and vitamin D are essential for recovery, especially in elderly patients.

Broken Leg Prevention

You can prevent a broken leg by minimizing your risk and paying attention to any risk factors associated with broken legs. These factors include using sports equipment incorrectly, using improper technique when exercising, or working in certain industries. Working at a construction site puts you at greater risk of injuries, especially falls.

Keeping your home cluttered or poorly lit could cause all sorts of potential accidents. Make sure your home is clean and well lit so that you can move around freely and without incident. If you’ve suddenly started becoming more active, you may be at a greater risk for a broken leg, especially if you’re older and prone to falls.

Work on building your bone strength by eating foods high in calcium and vitamin D, such as cheese, milk and yogurt. Calcium and vitamin D can help improve bone strength. Wearing the right shoes for your favorite activity or sport can help build leg strength. Athletic shoes are recommended and replacing them regularly is suggested.

Alternating between physical activities could also help you prevent a broken leg by easing the amount of stress placed on your legs. You can try switching back and forth between running and swimming, for example.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 21, 2017