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Leg Fracture

What is a leg fracture?

A leg fracture is a break or crack in the bone of the upper leg (femur) or a break in one or both of the bones in the lower leg (tibia or fibula).

What is the cause?

Leg fractures can happen in many ways, such as from falls, direct hits, and overuse. Sometimes diseases, such as osteoporosis, or other problems can cause bones to get weak and break more easily.

What are the symptoms?

When the leg is broken, you may hear a snapping or popping sound. Symptoms may include:

  • pain, swelling, or tenderness
  • trouble moving the leg or not being able to walk
  • a grating feeling when your child moves the leg (caused by broken bones moving against each other)
  • muscle spasms
  • a change in the shape of the leg

If there is an open wound over the site of a fracture, it’s especially important to get medical care right away.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and how the injury happened. Your provider will examine your child. Your child will have X-rays of the leg.

A child's bones are different from an adult’s bones in a couple ways. A child’s bones are more flexible and may crack rather than break. Or they may just buckle slightly. Also, the bones are still growing from areas near the ends of the bones called growth plates. A fracture in a growth plate may affect the growth of the bone but it may be hard to see with X-rays. Sometimes special tests are needed to diagnose fractures in the growth plate.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on the type of fracture. Sometimes surgery is needed to put the bones back into the correct position.

Your healthcare provider may put the leg in a splint or cast to keep it from moving.

If your child has an open wound over the site of the leg fracture, your child may need surgery. Your healthcare provider will cleanse the wound and cover it with a sterile dressing. Your child may need to have a tetanus shot and need to take antibiotics for several days.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Also:

  • To keep swelling down and help relieve pain, your healthcare provider may tell you to:
    • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first day or two after the injury.
    • Keep the injured leg up on pillows when your child sits or lies down.
    • Give your child pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, your child should not take the medicine for more than 10 days. Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
  • If your child has a cast, make sure the cast does not get wet. Cover the cast with plastic when your child bathes. Avoid scratching the skin around the cast or poking things down the cast. This could cause an infection.
  • Your child may need to use crutches or a cane. Your healthcare provider will tell you how much weight your child can put on the leg, if any.

Depending on the type of injury and how it was treated, your child may need to do special exercises to help the leg get stronger. Most of the time preteen children are so active that their legs get stronger and more flexible without physical therapy.

Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests. Call your healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has more pain, redness, warmth, or swelling.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a loss of feeling in the injured area.
  • The injured leg or foot looks pale or blue or feels cold.

How can a leg fracture be prevented?

Most broken legs are caused by accidents that are not easy to prevent. However, you can help prevent leg injuries by:

  • wearing shoes that fit well and give good support
  • gently stretching before and after physical activity
  • working and playing safely
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-02-29
Last reviewed: 2012-01-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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