Key Points about Thigh and Lower Leg Fractures

  • A thigh or lower leg fracture is caused by a crack or break in the femur, tibia, or fibula bones.
  • Femur fractures often result from events such as car accidents, falls, gunshot wounds or other direct trauma to the thighbone.
  • Tibia and fibula fractures often result from overuse, a sports injury, or falling on the affected limb.
  • Symptoms of a thigh or lower leg fracture may include severe pain, swelling, bruising and tenderness in the affected area.
  • Call your doctor if you have any symptoms of a fracture following an accident or injury.
Common related conditions
Knee Fractures Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Overview

A fracture is a break or crack in a bone. When a leg is broken, the fracture can occur in the femur (thighbone) or in the lower leg’s tibia and fibula bones. Femur fractures are often caused by a direct, high-impact trauma to the thighbone. Tibia and fibula fractures can also result from high-impact trauma to the lower leg, or from lower-impact events, such as twisting the leg in the wrong direction by accident.

Treatment and prognosis will vary depending on the location and severity of the fracture. Your doctor will assess your injury and symptoms and provide the best treatment accordingly. 

Thigh and lower leg fracture causes

Femur fractures are often caused by direct, high-impact trauma to the thighbone. Such trauma may occur from a:

  • Car accident
  • Gunshot wound
  • Fall from a high place

Because the femur is generally an extremely strong bone, a femur fracture that results from a relatively low-impact event may signal an underlying condition that has weakened the bones, such as cancer or osteoporosis.

Tibia and fibula fractures can also result from high-impact trauma, although lower-impact events can also lead to fractures in these bones. Common causes of tibia and fibula fractures include:

  • Falling on the affected leg
  • Direct impact while playing a sport
  • Overuse of the legs, such as from long-distance running

In most cases, if the tibia bone is fractured, the fibula is also fractured. If only the fibula fractures, the injury probably involved a direct trauma to, or bend in, the side of the leg where the fibula is located.

Thigh and lower leg fracture risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of experiencing a fracture if you:

  • Engage in physical activity that involves chronically stressing the leg bones, such as running or playing basketball
  • Have osteoporosis
  • Have rheumatoid arthritis
  • Have diabetes

Thigh and lower leg fracture symptoms

Symptoms of a femur fracture may include:

  • Severe pain in the thigh, particularly when touching the area, attempting to bear weight on the leg, or attempting to move the knee or hip of the affected leg
  • Bruising and swelling in the injured area
  • Bone fragments that have broken through the skin

Symptoms of a tibia or fibula fracture may include:

  • Severe pain, swelling, bruising or tenderness in the lower leg
  • Deformed leg shape or foot alignment following the injury
  • Bone fragments that have broken through the skin
  • An inability to bear weight on the affected leg

Thigh and lower leg fracture complications

Femur fractures can lead to complications such as:

  • Severe bleeding and blood loss
  • Blood clots that develop in the thigh veins, and can be life-threatening if they travel to the lungs

Tibia fractures can lead to complications such as:

  • Bacterial infection, if the broken bone breaks through the skin
  • Impaired healing, if the broken bone damages nearby nerves, blood vessels, or soft tissues

Thigh and lower leg fracture diagnosis

When diagnosing a thigh or leg fracture, your doctor will examine the injured area, checking for numbness, tenderness, and impaired blood flow. Your doctor will also provide an X-ray to assess the location and severity of the fracture.

Thigh and lower leg fracture treatment

Femur fractures are usually treated through surgical repair of the broken bone. In this procedure, the surgeon will insert a metal rod into the bone, which facilitates healing.

Tibia fractures are often treated by putting the affected limb into a cast. For some fractures, doctors may also need to surgically insert metal rods and screws to repair the broken limb.

Fibula fractures can often be treated by resting the affected limb, icing the area, and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Most fibula fractures do not require additional treatment, although doctors may provide a cast or crutches in some cases.

Next Steps

Leg fractures can take up to two or more months to heal, depending on the severity of the injury, the presence of any complications, and whether surgery was necessary.

After undergoing surgery for a femur fracture, your doctor will provide you with crutches to use while you recover.

Following both femur and lower leg fractures, your doctor will provide you with a physical therapy regimen to begin once you are able. These exercises will help rebuild strength and a full range of motion in the affected leg.