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Broken Leg

Broken Leg Facts

The lower extremity, commonly referred to as the leg, contains four bones (the femur, the patella, the tibia, and the fibula) and bends at the hip, the knee, and the ankle. These bones may break (fracture) into two or more pieces.

If a broken bone has been exposed to the outside, either by a cut over the fracture, or by bone sticking out through the skin, it is called an open fracture. An open fracture is also referred to as a compound fracture.

A break in the leg may involve any of these bones:

  • The femur is the bone in the thigh. It is the longest and strongest bone of the body. The upper part of the femur fits into the pelvis to form the hip joint. At this joint, it can move frontward, backward, sideways, and rotate in and out. When people refer to a "broken hip," it is this upper part of the femur that is broken.
  • The lower end of the femur rests on top of the tibia, forming the knee joint. At the knee, the leg can swing frontward, backward, and rotate slightly.
  • The kneecap (patella) glides back and forth in front of the knee joint. The kneecap suspends the ligaments from the thigh muscle and helps to add leverage for straightening out the leg.
  • The tibia is the shinbone and supports the body's weight. The fibula runs alongside the tibia below the knee. It is on the outside part of the leg and is smaller than the tibia.
  • The ankle is composed of the bottom ends of the tibia and fibula, the connecting foot bones, and the ligaments and tendons. Severe twisting injuries to the ankle can result in fractures of the tibia or fibula near or within the ankle joint.
Picture of the bones of the leg
Picture of the bones of the leg
Picture of the bones of the hip
Picture of the bones of the hip
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/29/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Broken Leg:

Broken Leg - Symptoms

What type of leg fracture did you suffer?

Broken Leg - Causes

How do you break your leg?

Kevin Ware's Broken Leg

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

Watching elite athletes perform on the playing field is meant to inspire. Like listening to a gifted musician or watching an actor on stage, live performance creates a bond between performer and fan. However, the stage rarely moves and there are no body checks or fouls at a symphony. Athletes have to prepare for the physical and mental challenges of competition, and they also need to overcome roadblocks placed by the opposition. It is the small movements, barely perceptible, that allow an athlete to stay balanced, shift a center of gravity, and adjust footing that prevents falls and injury. Muscles, tendons and ligaments stabilize the body and prevent potential injury and damage. Sometimes those mechanisms fail, and gravity and physics collide with the forces being placed on a leg or a joint and disaster occurs. A hush falls over the crowd, the cameras turn away, and medical people rush onto the court.

Kevin Ware, guard for the Louisville Cardinals, had jumped to block a shot thousands of times in practice and in games. Landing on one foot or two, twisting away or turning into an opponent was an instinctive act, not requiring thought, just body reaction. But in front of a packed house and millions more watching on television and the internet, Ware came down on one leg with just the right (or wrong) angle, torque, and amount of force that the leg gave way and the crowd hushed. The leg is not meant to bend at such an awkward angle and the bone is not meant to be pushed through the skin. Disaster had struck.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Femur Injuries and Fractures »

The spectrum of femoral shaft fractures is wide and ranges from nondisplaced femoral stress fractures to fractures associated with severe comminution andsignificant soft-tissue injury.

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