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Broken Leg (cont.)

Broken Leg Symptoms

The major symptoms of a broken leg are pain, swelling, and deformity. A broken leg can be very obvious, but may require an X-ray to diagnose. Even when very obvious, an X-ray usually is required to evaluate the severity of the fracture and exact alignment of bone fragments.

Pain caused by a broken bone is typically severe. Holding the bone still will decrease pain. Movement of the broken bone will increase pain.

Swelling and bruising over the area of a break are common.

  • Deformity of the leg can occur in these forms:
    • Shortening: The broken leg appears shorter than the unaffected leg.
    • Rotation: The leg below the break is twisted.
    • Angulation: The leg bends at the break instead of at the joint.

When to Seek Medical Care for a Broken Leg

Some parts of the leg may be broken and still feel like a severe strain or sprain. This can often be the case of injuries around the ankle, or sometimes with the fibula (the little bone next to the shinbone).

Call your doctor if these conditions describe the patient's condition:

  • The person is not able to walk without a great amount of pain.
  • It hurts when the the bony parts of the leg are pressed on.
  • There is concern that the person may have a broken leg (even if you are unsure).

If you think you or someone else has a broken leg, go to an emergency department for further evaluation. If the person cannot walk, call 911 for an ambulance.

If the affected individual has had a surgery, or had a splint or cast placed on the injury previously, return to the hospital immediately if these problems develop:

  • Loss of muscle strength or numbness in the leg or foot. A certain amount of strength loss is common because of the pain of the fracture, but if there is a rapid development of numbness or worsening of strength, or a significant increase in pain unrelieved by your pain medication, these may be signs of a "compartment syndrome." Compartment syndrome occurs when swelling gets so severe within the leg that it cuts off blood flow to the leg. This can cause damage to muscles and nerves of the leg.
  • Redness, fever, increased swelling or pain, or drainage of pus from a surgical incision are all signs of possible wound infection.

Broken Leg Diagnosis

The doctor will examine the patient's leg for evidence of a break (fracture). If the doctor suspects that a bone has been broken, X-rays will be ordered.

  • The doctor also will look for signs that an artery or nerve was damaged or injured. To do this, the doctor will feel for pulses and test the strength and sense of touch below the injury.
  • If the doctor suspects some other medical condition has caused weakening of the bone leading to the fracture, other lab tests may be ordered.
  • Diagnosis of stress fractures are often difficult, and special studies beyond X-rays may be needed.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/29/2016

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