5 Fast Facts About Broken Legs

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  • There are three main bones in your leg—the thighbone (femur) and two shinbones (tibia and fibula). Any of them could break, or fracture. The different types of leg fractures depend on which bone breaks, how severe the break is, and the location and direction of the break. The pain of a broken leg is often severe. Walking is usually impossible until it's treated. But after the break has healed, most people can return to their day-to-day activities. Here are five fast facts about broken leg risks, treatment and recovery.

  • 1
    Leg bones are some of the hardest to break.
    spasm

    The femur is the strongest and longest bone in the body, making it one of the most difficult to break. A femur fracture is not very common unless you are in a serious accident, like a car accident. People with femur fractures usually have other injuries too. Breaks in the tibia and fibula are more common. These bones bear a lot of weight and stress from carrying your body. Sports injuries and falls can cause these bones to break. Sometimes, regular long-distance running can lead to fractures as well.

  • 2
    There are several risk factors for a broken leg.
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    Certain diseases make a broken leg more likely. Osteoporosis is one of them because it causes thin, weak bones. Diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis can also affect your bones and increase your risk for a break. It takes less force to break a bone in someone who has one of these conditions. Playing contact sports, including hockey and football among others, is another risk factor. Exercises that involve repetitive movements also increase your risk of a broken leg. Examples include dancing, running, playing basketball, and marching.

  • 3
    Treatment for a broken leg varies.
    Broken leg

    The right treatment for your broken leg depends on which bone is broken. How severe the break is makes a difference, too. A broken leg often requires a cast. Normally you can still walk around using crutches. However, a severe broken leg might need a cast that doesn't let you move your leg at all. A broken leg also may require elevation in a traction device. You might need surgery to repair a badly broken leg. Sometimes, the surgeon will use special pins, plates or screws to hold the broken bone in place so it will heal properly.

  • 4
    A full recovery can take weeks or months.
    Man with broken leg

    It can take weeks or months for a broken leg to heal. This is especially true if you had surgery or a very bad break. To recover as quickly as possible, be sure to follow your doctor's advice during your recovery period. For instance, your leg might stop hurting before it is completely healed. But, you should not go back to normal activities until your doctor says it's safe to do so—even if you feel better. Don't do anything strenuous right after your doctor removes your cast. You'll need physical therapy and special exercises to help regain your strength.

  • 5
    Diet and exercise can help prevent a broken leg.
    Woman drinking milk

    Strong bones are less likely to break. Your lifestyle can help your bones get stronger. Eat plenty of foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Dairy products— including milk, yogurt and cheese—help build stronger bones. Regular exercise also helps by strengthening muscles that support your bones. Weight-bearing exercise is especially good for your bones. Examples include strength training, jogging, fast walking, and yard work. Mix up your workout routine so you don't do the same activities all the time. When running or doing other exercise, wear supportive shoes with good cushioning to ease strain on your legs.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 21
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Broken Leg. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-leg/basics/definition/con-20031562
  2. Femur Shaft Fractures (Broken Thighbone). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00521
  3. Fractures (Broken Bones). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00139
  4. Tibia (Shinbone) Shaft Fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00522
  5. Weight-Bearing Exercise for Women and Girls. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00263