Fractured Tibia: Treatments, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Causes

Fractured Tibia Overview

Fractured tibia injuries are most commonly caused by a direct force being applied to the shaft of the tibia, such as during a road traffic collision. Tibial fractures can also be caused by forceful twisting injuries, usually as a result of playing heavy contact sports.

Fractured tibia

Fractured tibia

The tibia, commonly known as the shin bone, is the only weight-bearing bone in the leg and the body’s most commonly fractured bone. Fractured tibia injuries are located along the length of the tibia bone, above the ankle and below the knee, and are often associated with fibula fractures, the smaller bone in the lower leg. In 75 – 85% of fractured tibia injuries, the fibula is also broken. This guide provides important information on the causes and symptoms of fractured tibia injuries and how you can make the best possible recovery. To learn about fractured tibia injuries in more detail and to find out how you can make the best recovery, click on a section below:

Select a Section

What is the Definition of a Fractured Tibia?

The tibia bone which is your shin bone, is located in the lower leg, between the knee and the ankle. A fractured tibia is a common, yet extremely painful injury that can be a traumatic experience for the patient. The tibia and the fibula are the two bones that make up the lower part of the leg. As the larger of the two bones, the tibia supports the majority of the body’s overall weight and is a significant part of the knee and ankle joint.

A fractured tibia usually occurs when a powerful force is applied to the lower leg such as being involved in a road traffic accident. In injuries that cause fractures of the tibia, it is not uncommon for the smaller fibula bone to also be broken.

Treatment for a fractured tibia depends on the type of break sustained, the severity of the injury and the overall health and well-being of the patient. Surgery using specially designed rods and pins is often required for open or severe fractures, while more simple fractures of the tibia usually heal without surgical intervention.

Are There Different Types of Tibia Fractures?

Fractured tibia injuries can vary in type and severity, depending on the nature of the injury and the level of force that causes the fracture in the bone. For example, in a stable fractured tibia, the fragments of broken bone will still be correctly in line, but in a displaced fracture, the pieces of bone will be out of their normal alignment.

In a closed fracture of the tibia, the skin around the injury will be unbroken, whereas an open fractured tibia will cause a puncture to the skin. The fibula bone may also be fractured in this type of injury, resulting in a tibia and fibula fracture.

When diagnosing a fractured tibia, doctors use the following classification system:

  • Where on the tibia bone the fracture is located (distal, middle or proximal). For example, a fractured tibial plateau occurs at the top of the shin bone, where the knee is located
  • The pattern or direction of the fracture to the tibia. For example, the break in the bone may occur down the length of the bone, across the bone or in the middle of the bone
  • Whether the fractured is open or closed

The most commonly diagnosed fractures in the tibia bone include:

  • Transverse fracture: This fracture is diagnosed when a straight, horizontal break is present across the tibial bone
  • Oblique fracture: In this type of fractured tibia, the break is at an angle across the tibia bone

Transverse and oblique fractured tibia

  • Spiral fracture: Typically caused by a twisting injury, this kind of fracture line spirals around the shaft, creating a striped pattern around the bone
  • Comminuted fracture: In this type of fracture, the tibia bone breaks into at least three fragments
  • Open fracture – also known as a compound tibia fracture: In this kind of fracture, the broken bone penetrates the skin. An open (or compound) fracture to the tibia or fibula often causes extensive damage to the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding the injury. This kind of fracture also brings an increased risk of infection and other complications, and takes longer to heal

What are the Most Common Causes of a Fractured Tibia?

Fractured tibia injuries are most commonly caused by a high-impact force, such as a vehicle collision or a motorcycling accident. Comminuted fractures are typical following these kinds of injuries, where the bone breaks into several fragments. Other causes of this type of leg injury include taking part in the following activities and sports:

  • Skiing
  • Rugby
  • Football
  • Hockey

What are the Symptoms of a Fractured Tibia?

Fractured tibia symptoms depend on many factors, including the cause of the injury, the type of fracture and the location of the break in the bone. For example, fractured tibial plateau symptoms may be different to symptoms of a fractured lower tibia.

Small hairline fractures of the tibia bone may only cause minor symptoms such as moderate pain or trouble walking, whereas more severe fractures may cause a loss of sensation, deformity and intense pain.

It is important to seek urgent medical attention if you or someone you know experiences any of the below symptoms following an accident or injury:

  • Immediate pain in the leg following the injury
  • Difficulty walking or bearing weight on the affected leg
  • Instability or a deformity in the injured leg
  • A “tent” appearance in the skin or a pone sticking out through the skin
  • Occasional or intermittent loss of sensation in the foot

How is a Fractured Tibia Diagnosed?

During the process of diagnosing a fractured tibia, your doctor will want to know specific details about your injury, such as how fast you were travelling if your fractured tibia was caused by a car accident. The more information your doctor can gather, the better they can determine the cause of your injury and whether you are likely to be injured anywhere else.

Your doctor will also need to know about any other health conditions you have, such as high blood pressure or asthma, and whether you currently take any medications.

After discussing the details of your suspected fractured tibia injury and your medical history, your doctor will carry out a physical examination of your injured leg. During this visual assessment, your doctor will look for common fractured tibia symptoms such as:

  • Deformities in the leg
  • Breaks or wounds in the skin
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Fragments of bone pushing against the skin
  • Instability (You may retain some stability of the fracture to your tibia is incomplete or of the fibula is not broken)

Your doctor will also feel along your tibia bone and foot to check for abnormalities that may not be present during a visual examination.

Imaging Tests

If your doctor suspects you have a fractured tibia, you may be sent for imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis.

X-rays

A fractured tibia x-ray will provide clear pictures of any broken bones and will show the location and type of tibial fracture. X-rays can also be an effective way to identify any involvement of the ankle or knee joints in the fracture and whether the fibula is also broken.

Computed tomography (CT) scans.

You may require a CT scan for your fractured tibia injury if your doctor needs more information to determine the severity of your fracture. For example, your fractured tibia may be difficult to see on an x-ray if the fracture line is particularly thin. A CT scan will provide you doctor with a cross-sectional photograph of your injured leg, allowing him/ her to see your fractured tibia in more detail and whether a lot of soft tissue damage has occurred.

How is a Fractured Tibia Treated?

When assessing what kind of fractured tibia treatment is right for you, your doctor will take several factors into consideration. These will include:

  • Your general health
  • The cause of your fractured tibia injury
  • The severity of your fracture
  • The extent of the damage to soft tissues
  • Whether you are better suited to nonsurgical treatment

Your doctor may decide that fractured tibia surgery may be unsuitable for you if:

  • You have health problems that may put you at an increased risk of suffering complications during surgery
  • You are less active and therefore able to better tolerate differences in leg length or minor angulation degrees
  • You have suffered a closed fractured tibia with very little movement of the ends of affected bones

Initial Treatment

As most fractured tibia injuries cause initial swelling, it is likely that your doctor will apply a fractured tibia splint to ease any discomfort and offer extra support. A splint can be adjusted to allow space for any swelling to take place safely. When the swelling subsides, your doctor will discuss what further treatment is required.

Casting and Bracing

Your doctor may use a cast or a brace to help immobilise your fractured tibia during the first stages of the healing process. This is usually replaced with a plastic fastening brace after several weeks to provide added support and protection as your injury continues to heal. You will be able to remove your brace to wash your leg and if you need to undergo any physical therapy treatment.

Surgical Treatment

Your doctor may decide that fractured tibia surgery is the best course of treatment for you if:

  • You have an open fracture of the tibia
  • Your fractured tibia has not responded to nonsurgical treatment
  • Your fracture has caused multiple bone fragments and major bone displacement

Intramedullary Nailing

Intramedullary nailing involves inserting specially designed metal rods into the canal of the tibia and is the most common surgical method used for fractured tibia injuries.

During this procedure, a surgeon screws the intramedullary nail to both ends of the fractured bone. This ensures the nail and the fractured bone are kept in the correct position during the healing process.

Intramedullary nails are typically made of titanium and are available in a variety of sizes to fit most adult tibia bones. The procedure is not usually used for fractured tibias in toddlers, children and adolescents due to the risk of crossing the growth plates in the bone.

Plates and Screws

During this surgical procedure, the surgeon will attach metal plates and screws to the bones’ outer surfaces to reposition them into their correct alignment

This kind of fractured tibia surgery is usually carried out when intramedullary nailing is not possible, such as in the case of fractured tibia injuries that include the ankle or knee joints.

External Fixation

This type of operation includes metal pins or screws being inserted into the bone around the site of the fractured tibia. The pins and screws are externally attached to a stabilising frame that ensures the bones are kept in their correct position during the healing process.

Could I Qualify for Free Treatment for a Fractured Tibia?

Fractured tibia treatment

Fractured tibia treatment

You could be entitled to free private medical treatment if you have suffered a fractured tibia. This kind of private medical care can help to accelerate your fractured tibia recovery time in a safe and professional way, providing you with advice, support and assistance as you move forward from your injury. To find out if you are eligible for free private treatment for your fractured tibia, get in touch with one of our friendly and professional health experts today,

What Free Medical Care Is Available for a Fractured Tibia?

Depending on where in the UK you live, you could be entitled to invaluable free medical treatment for your fractured tibia injury. This may include physiotherapy, ice packs and other important medical supplies or orthopaedic report services. This kind of private medical care can speed up the recovery process by helping to reduce pain and inflammation as you move forward from your injury.

You can find out today if you are one of the many UK residents entitled to free fractured tibia treatment. Get in contact with our professional and friendly health experts today.

Are There Any Complications Associated with a Fractured Tibia?

Fractured tibia injuries can sometimes lead to complications and further injuries, such as:

  • Cuts or tears in the surrounding muscles, blood vessels and nerves due to the sharp ends of the fractured tibia
  • The development of Acute Compartment Syndrome. This is a painful and potentially dangerous condition where too much pressure builds up within the muscles, leading to decreased blood flow and a lack of oxygen to the muscles. Without surgical treatment, this complication can lead to permanent disability
  • The development of an infection caused by an open fracture

Possible complications following fractured tibia surgery can include:

  • Infection
  • Nerves and blood vessel injuries
  • Clots in the blood
  • Misalignment of the broken bone fragments
  • Delayed or non-union, when the fractured tibia fails to heal or does not heal as quickly as expected heals slower
  • Minor or major angulation (with treatment by external fixation)

I Think My Doctor Missed Something When Diagnosing My Fractured Tibia?

If you believe you have not received an accurate diagnosis for your fractured tibia or you are dissatisfied with the treatment you have received, it is important that you gain as much knowledge as possible on fractured tibia injuries.

Leaning about the different types of fractures, such as fractured tibial plateau symptoms and tibial condyle fractures, will put you in an educated position to determine whether you are receiving the best kind of treatment for your injury.

The links at the bottom of this fractured tibia guide provide more detailed advice and information on this type of injury.

How Long Does a Fractured Tibia Take to Heal?

As fractured tibias affect people in different ways, there is no guaranteed recovery time for this kind of injury. However, with assisted immobilisation, it generally takes around 12 to 16 weeks for most fractured tibia injuries to completely heal. Your recovery time may be less if you have suffered a hairline fracture of the tibia or it could be longer if you have an open fracture.

Pain Management

It is normal to experience pain following a fractured tibia injury. As you go through the recovery process, your doctor will advise you on pain management treatment

Your doctor may prescribe pain-relief medication to ease your discomfort. There are several effective types of medications available to help reduce pain. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, gabapentinoids, opoids, muscle relaxants and topical pain relievers.

Depending on the type of fractured tibia you have, and the level of pain you experience, your doctor may prescribe a combination of pain relief medications. Your doctor will speak to you about any side effects from your medication that may impact your ability to drive or undertake other activities

Weight bearing

As you begin your fractured tibia recovery process, your doctor is likely to encourage you to start moving your injured leg as soon as you comfortably can. For example, if you have a fractured left tibia, your doctor may advise you to focus on increasing motion in that leg soon after the injury takes place. It is important that you follow your doctor’s advice for putting weight or walking on your fractured leg to avoid further injury and complications.

Depending on the extent of your fractured tibia, you may be advised to avoid putting any weight on your injured leg until the fracture has started to heal. You may also need to use crutches to help support you as you begin walking again.

Physical Therapy

Fractured tibia injuries can lead to muscle weakness in the affected leg, therefore physical therapy is recommended to aid the healing process. Physiotherapy treatment can help to rebuild the strength in your muscles, help mobilise your joints and increase flexibility.

Your physiotherapy treatment is likely to start while you are still in hospital and continue after you are discharged. As well as teaching you effective fractured tibia exercises, your physiotherapist will show you the correct way to use a walker or crutches.

Can I Speed Up a Fractured Tibia Safely?

Physiotherapy is one of the most effective fractured tibia treatments available to help speed up the recovery time from your injury. A course of physiotherapy appointments can help increase your mobility and restore function in your leg following your fractured tibia injury. You could be one of the many people in the UK eligible for free physiotherapy sessions. If you have suffered a fractured tibia, get in touch with our friendly team of health experts today and find out if you qualify for free, private medical care in your area.

Are There Any Long-Term Health Issues Associated with a Fractured Tibia?

Whether you have suffered a simple stress fractured tibia or a severe open fractured tibia, you could be at risk of developing long-term health problems if you do not receive the correct treatment for your injury.

The most common long-term health complications following a fracture to the tibia include the development of osteoarthritis in the ankle, stiffness, deformities in the foot and ankle, and localised pain and discomfort. It is important to seek urgent medical attention following an injury to your shin bone to correctly identify whether a tibia fracture is present and to promptly begin the treatment process.

Call Today to Find out What Free Fractured Tibia Treatments are Available?

Just like millions of other fractured tibia patients in the UK, you could be eligible for free private medical care outside the NHS. This type of specialist treatment can provide you with essential medical supplies, physiotherapy aftercare and access to free orthopaedic assessments of broken bone reports which can significantly accelerate your injury recovery time.

To find out if you qualify for free, private care for your fractured tibia injury, contact our professional and friendly specialists today. Our phone lines are open 7 days a week from 9 am to 11 pm. A health expert is waiting to take your call on 020 3870 4868.

Helpful Links

If you would like to know more about how to look after your plaster cast during your fractured tibia healing process, please click on the link below:

How to look after your plaster cast

To find out more about a broken leg and how to cope with this type of injury, please follow the link below:

More about broken legs

If you sustained a tibial or fibular fracture and would like to know more about these types of leg injuries, please click on the link below:

More about tibial and fibular fractures