Fractures of Tibia and Fibula
Fractures of the Tibia and Fibula
In the human body there are four specific “long bones:” the femur, humerus, tibia, and fibula. (“Tibia (Shinbone) Shaft Fractures”) The tibia and fibula are located in the lower part of the leg, between the knee and the ankle. The tibia is the larger of the two, is the weight bearing bone, but also the most common long bone for a person to fracture. However, because serious complications can arise from a fractured tibia, or a fibula, it is vitally important to “be aware of the early warning signs.” (Semer, 2001, p. 205) Failure to treat a fracture early can result in permanent damage including disability, paralysis, an even amputation. But with proper treatment, a fracture of the tibia or fibula, or both, can “heal without complications and a person is able to resume his or her normal activities.” (Semer, 2001, p. 205)
The tibia is a strong bone and it is difficult to fracture, however, it seems that people always can find a way of breaking one of their strongest bones. High-energy impacts, as in a motorcycle or car crash, are a common means of fracturing the tibia or fibula. But the most common ways of fracturing these bones come from sports injuries; falling while skiing, slamming into others while playing football or soccer, or some other type of force-impact trauma. Because of the amount of energy involved in fracturing these bones, those most commonly affected are the young and active who engage in sports and extreme activities like rock climbing or sky-diving.
If someone has fractured their tibia or fibula, the most common symptoms are “pain, inability to walk or bear weight on the leg, deformity or instability of the leg, bone ‘tenting’ the skin or protruding through a break in the skin, and occasional loss of feeling in the foot.” (“Tibia (Shinbone) Shaft Fractures”) When experiencing these symptoms, it is best to get an examination from a doctor who will look for bruises, swelling, bones protruding under or through the skin, and instability. The doctor will most likely then order that an x-ray be taken of the lower leg as a fracture can easily be “made on the basis of the radiograph.” A fracture of the tibia or fibula will show up on an x-ray as a dark line or crack in the bone. In the case of a more serious fracture, the bone itself will be demonstrably cracked and separated into two or more distinct pieces. (Von Laer, 2004, p. 371) However, if the x-ray indicates that the fracture may extend into the knee or ankle area, a computed tomography (CT) scan is often recommended. A CT scan can also provide valuable information about how serious of a fracture the patient has suffered.
The goal of treatment is to obtain a healed bone and healthy soft tissue. To achieve this, firstly, antibiotics should be given to prevent infection; especially if the bone has pierced the skin. Depending on the severity of the fracture, there are two types of treatments that a doctor can recommend: non-surgical and surgical. In the case of a minor, or moderate fracture, the most common treatment is to apply a splint for the first week or two, until the swelling subsides, and then encase the leg in a cast to for the initial healing of the fracture. (“Tibia (Shinbone) Shaft Fractures”) However, in the case of more serious fractures, especially when bones pierce the skin or break into many pieces, the surgical option is best. This involves cutting open the leg and inserting metal pins, plates, nails, or screws to physically hold the pieces of bone in place. Occasionally, the screws in the bone will also be attached to metal bars placed outside the leg as a means of stabilization. With proper treatment and rehabilitation, and depending upon the seriousness of the fracture, a person may be able to resume full activity within 6 to 8 weeks.
Semer, Nadine. (2001). Practical Plastic Surgeries for Nonsurgeons. Philadelphia:
Hanley & Belfus. Retrieved from:
“Tibia (Shinbone) Shaft Fractures.” American Academy of Orthopaedic
Surgeons: Orthoinfo. Retrieved from:
Von Laer, Lutz. (2004). Pediatric Fractures and Dislocations. New York: Thieme. Print.
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