What Are Tibia and Fibula Fractures?
The tibia and fibula are bones in the lower leg. The tibia, the larger of the two bones, is the shinbone and is at the front of the leg, while the fibula is known as the calf bone and can be found next to the tibia on the outside of the lower leg.
The tibia is the most often fractured—or broken—long bone in the body (long bones also include the femur, fibula and humerus). Fibula fractures often manifest as broken ankles.
Symptoms of a lower leg fracture include:
- Bone poking through the skin, in the case of a compound fracture
- Difficulty or inability to bear weight
- Leg instability
A fibula or tibia fracture can occur in one of two ways: either a high-energy trauma like a car accident, or a low-energy event like a fall or sports injury. Athletes in sports with much twisting or cutting, such as basketball or tennis, are especially prone to tibia and fibula fractures.
The doctor usually starts with a medical history to learn about the injury sustained and any other medical problem, and then look for signs and symptoms of a fracture. An X-ray can detect the presence of a fracture and its severity, and a computed tomography (CT) scan can show if there is any damage to the knee or ankle joints.
A fibula or tibia fracture can often be treated with conservative measures. These usually include immobilization with a cast or brace to allow the fracture to heal on its own.
Surgery may be necessary if the fracture does not respond to immobilization, if it is a displaced fracture or if the fracture site has a number of bone fragments. The surgeon uses plates, screws or rods to hold the broken portions of the bone together. This hardware could be internal (under the skin) or external, such as attached to a bar outside the skin.
Recovery from a broken fibula may take six weeks or longer. A broken tibia heals even more slowly—four to six months or longer. To manage pain, opioids or anti-inflammatories may be prescribed.
Rehabilitation and physical therapy (PT) are important parts of healing from a broken tibia or fibula. PT focuses on exercises designed to increase range of motion and strength of the muscles and tissues around the fracture.
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