What are Tibial Fractures?
There are two kinds of tibial fractures:
- Open. In an open fracture, the bone breaks through the skin, or a wound is deep enough that the bone can be seen through it. This involves much more damage to the surrounding tissues and take longer to heal.
- Closed. In a closed fracture, the bone is broken but the skin is not broken.
Tibia fractures may happen at the same time as a fracture of the fibula, which is the long, thin bone that runs along the tibia to connect to the knee.
Tibial fractures can be caused by:
- Falls or impacts that give the shinbone more force than it can sustain. Fractures can happen when the bone receives enough force to snap or twist.
- Direct trauma to the shin, as in a motorcycle or car accident.
- Diseases that weaken the bone, like osteoporosis or cancer. These can make bones break more easily when they receive a direct force. Osteoporosis usually occurs in older women.
- Playing a contact sport. Putting too much pressure on it over time can also cause a fracture. This is most common in athletes, especially those who play high-impact sports that involve running, jumping, or fast stopping. A related injury in athletes is an avulsion fracture, a kind of fracture where a piece of bone gets pulled away from the rest of the bone.
Diagnosis and Tests
If your healthcare provider thinks you might have a tibial fracture, they will start by doing a physical exam. During this exam, they will look at your leg and press on the injured area to find out if the bone is fractured and what kind of break it is.
Some fractures can be diagnosed with a physical exam alone, but in these cases your healthcare provider still might want to do imaging tests to take pictures of the bone and figure out the best treatment for you. Imaging tests include:
- X-ray. A machine takes a picture of your bone using electromagnetic energy. The fracture can be seen on the picture.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A test that uses magnets to show what’s going on inside the body.
- Computed Tomography Scan (CT or CAT scan). A test that combines x-rays and computer software to take a picture of your body that shows lots of details, including bones, organs, and muscles.
Treatments, & Prevention
Treatment options for tibial fractures can include:
- Immobilization. A splint, sling, or cast that helps keep the bones in place while it gets better. Moving or using the bone too much while it heals can stop the bone from healing normally. Since a broken tibia can be very painful, your healthcare provider might give you medicine to help with the pain.
- Traction. Traction is a method of stretching your leg so that it can stay straight. This may be applied shortly after the fracture occurs, or during the healing process.
- Surgery. Surgery may be needed to fix a broken tibia. Open fractures need to be cleaned and treated right away, since they have a risk of infection. There are different surgical methods that may be used depending on where the tibia is broken, how severe the break is, and if other parts of the leg were also damaged. Some methods include:
- Metal pins, plates, or screws that are placed on the outside or inside of the leg and keep the bones aligned.
- A procedure called Intramedullary nailing, where a long, straight, metal rod is put into the bone starting at the knee. This keeps the b. one straight and in one piece.
- Physical therapy. This method of treatment usually comes toward the end of the healing process. Physical therapy can teach you stretches and exercises that can relax and strengthen your muscles, and help get your leg back to its regular strength and fitness.
Make sure you don’t start putting weight on your leg before your healthcare provider says you’re ready to do so. Even if you don’t feel any pain, the bone might still be healing, and you could damage it by going too fast.