What is a fibula fracture?
A fibula fracture is a broken bone in the lower leg. There are two lower leg bones—the tibia and the fibula. The tibia bone—the larger of the two bones—sits in the front of leg forming the shin. The fibula bone is on the outside of the lower leg. The upper end of the fibular bone sits at the outside of your knee. The lower end forms the bony bump on the outside of your ankle. A broken fibula can happen anywhere along the bone. However, it is a common ankle injury called a distal fibula fracture.
Like most broken bones, trauma is the main cause of a fibula fracture. Diseases affecting the bones can increase your risk of breaking your fibula.
The symptoms you experience and the treatment you need depend on the type of break or fracture. The most common types of bone fractures include:
Stable fracture means the bone ends are close together. A cast or splint is usually the only treatment necessary.
Displaced fracture means the bone ends are out of place. Treatment starts with putting the bones back together so they can heal.
Comminuted fracture means the bone is shattered into three or more pieces. Surgery is usually necessary to reassemble the bone pieces.
Open or compound fracture means there is an opening in the skin near the fracture. This could be a deep wound or it could involve the bone breaking through the skin. Because infection can set in quickly, emergency surgery is necessary.
Fibula fractures can be simple, involving just the fibula bone, or complex, involving multiple bones and other joint structures, such as ligaments. It is possible to have a stress fracture or small crack in the fibula as well.
Any kind of broken bone requires immediate medical attention. You should find medical treatment even if you are not sure the bone is broken. Seek immediate medical care (dial 911) if you see the bone sticking through the skin, a symptom of an open or compound fracture.
What are symptoms of a fibula fracture?
Your symptoms and degree of disability will depend on the severity of the fracture and whether other bones or joint structures are involved.
Common symptoms of a fibula fracture
The most common symptoms of a broken fibula are:
Changes in gait, such as limping, feeling unstable, or walking in a different way
Deformity of the ankle or lower leg, such as having an abnormal lump or being unnaturally bent
Difficulty moving the ankle or leg
Hearing a snapping, grinding or popping during the injury
Inability to bear weight on the ankle or leg
Pain, which can range from moderate tenderness to severe pain
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
A compound fracture can quickly lead to infection which can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have either of the following:
A fracture with a piece of bone sticking out through the skin
A fracture or a potential fracture with a deep wound or trauma with open skin
Prompt medical care offers the best chance of successful healing without complications.
What causes a fibula fracture?
The most common cause of a fibula fracture is some sort of trauma or injury. You can break your fibular by rolling or twisting your ankle, tripping, falling, or sustaining a direct blow or impact to the lower leg or ankle. The fibula can also suffer a stress fracture. This type of fracture involves tiny cracks in the bone that develop repetitive stress or force on the bone. A stress fracture is a type of overuse injury.
What are the risk factors for a fibula fracture?
There are a number of factors that increase your risk of breaking a leg bone, including the fibula. This includes:
Being in a motor vehicle accident
Having osteoporosis, which thins the bones and makes them more likely to break
Participating in activities requiring repetitive motions or forces, such as running
Playing contact sports, such as football or soccer
Reducing your risk of a fibula fracture
It is hard to prevent broken bones because they are usually sudden accidents. However, you may be able to lower your risk of a fibula fracture by:
Getting weight-bearing exercise, which will help strengthen your bones and the muscles that support and protect your bones and joints
Strengthening your bones by getting enough calcium and vitamin D
Using proper sports equipment including shin guards and the correct, proper-fitting shoe for the activity
Women approaching menopause and men near 70 years of age should talk with their doctor about their risk of osteoporosis. Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend a screening test. Finding a problem early and treating it can help prevent fractures and other complications.
How is a fibula fracture treated?
The treatment goal for a fibula fracture is to put the bones back together and keep them in place while they heal. In most cases, this is a simple process. However, surgery may be necessary for severe breaks. Treatment may include:
Cast immobilization, which is the most common treatment
Open reduction and internal fixation, which is surgery to place hardware. In this case, pins, screws or plates attach directly to the bone. Your doctor may or may not need to remove the hardware after the bone heals.
External fixation, which is surgery to put pins or screws into the bones. This hardware attaches to a metal bar on the outside of the leg. The bar holds the bones in place during healing.
Traction, which uses a gentle pulling action to reposition the bones
What are the potential complications of a fibula fracture?
Without surgery, it is possible for the bones to move out of place during healing. This is malunion and it can cause chronic instability of the bone or joint. Treatment of malunion depends on the severity of the displacement and instability. Even with surgery, problems with bone healing can occur. In either case, arthritis and chronic pain can result. Pain can also occur with stabilizing hardware. If this is the case, your doctor may recommend removing it after healing is complete.
Following your treatment plan exactly is the best way to prevent these complications. Broken fibula recovery will likely include physical therapy to help you regain strength, function and stability in your ankle and leg. Broken fibula fracture recovery time ranges from several weeks to several months.