Knee and Leg

Fractures of the Proximal Tibia

The tibia or shin bone is a major bone of the leg which connects the knee to the ankle. A tibial fracture is a break in the continuity of the shin bone (tibia).

Fractures of proximal tibia: A proximal tibial fracture is a break in the upper part of the shin bone or tibia. Proximal tibial fractures may or may not involve the knee joint. Fractures that enter the knee joint may cause joint imperfections, irregular joint surfaces, and improper alignment in the legs. This can lead to as joint instability, arthritis, and loss of motion. These fractures are caused by stress or trauma or in a bone already compromised by disease, such as cancer or infection. Proximal tibia fractures can result in injury to the surrounding soft tissues including skin, muscle, nerves, blood vessels, and ligaments.

The symptoms of tibia fracture include painful weight bearing movements, tenseness around the knee, limitation of movement and deformity around the knee. In some individuals, impairment of blood supply secondary to the fracture may result in a pale or cool foot. Patients may also experience numbness or feelings of ‘pins and needles’ in the foot as a result of associated nerve injury.

The diagnosis of tibial fracture is based on the medical history including history of any previous injuries, complete physical examination and imaging studies. The physician will evaluate a soft tissue around the joint to identify any signs of nerve or blood vessel injury. Multiple X-rays and other imaging studies such as CT and MRI scans may be used to identify the location and severity of the fracture.

The management of the fracture is based on the severity of the fracture, medical condition of the patient and the patient’s lifestyle.

Non-surgical treatment comprises of immobilizing the fractured site with the help of casts or braces to prevent weight bearing and to help the healing process. X-rays are taken at regular intervals to assess the healing process. Weight bearing and movement are initiated gradually, depending on the nature of the injury and the condition of the patient.

Surgical treatment is considered to maintain alignment of the fractured bone. External or internal fixators may be used to align the fractured bone segments. If the fracture does not involve the knee joint, rods and plates can be used to stabilize the fracture. For a fracture involving the knee joint, a bone graft may be required to prevent the knee joint from collapsing. An external fixator is used when the surrounding soft tissue is severely damaged, as the use of plate and screw may be harmful.

As the tibial fracture usually involves the weight bearing joint it may cause long term problems such as loss of knee motion or instability and long term arthritis. Hence a rehabilitation program is initiated along with the treatment comprising of instructions on weight bearing, knee movements, and the use of external devices such as braces.

Pediatric Thighbone (Femur) Fracture

The femur or thighbone is the largest and strongest bone in the human body. Pediatric thighbone fractures can occur when your child falls hard on the ground and gets hit during sports, automobile accidents, and child abuse. In a thighbone fracture, the broken bones may be aligned or displaced. The fracture can either be closed (with skin intact) or open (with the bone piercing out through the skin). Your child may experience severe pain, swelling, inability to stand and walk, and limited range of motion of hip or knee.

Your child’s doctor will conduct a physical examination. An X-ray or CT-scan may be recommended to locate the position and number of fractures, and determine if the growth plate is damaged. Femur fractures may be treated with non-surgical or surgical methods.

Non-surgical treatment involves stabilizing the bones so they can heal and fuse together. Braces, spica casting (cast applied from the chest, down the fractured leg) or traction (placing the leg in a weight system) may be used to ensure that the bones are properly set in their normal position.

Surgery is recommended for complicated injuries. Your child’s surgeon aligns the broken bones and uses metal plates and screws to hold the fractured bones together in proper alignment. Your child may have to wear a cast for a few weeks until complete healing. An external fixator may be used in case of open injury to the skin and muscles.

Shinbone Fractures

The tibia or shin bone is a major bone of the leg which connects the knee to the ankle. A tibial fracture is a break in the continuity of the shin bone (tibia).

Types

  • Fractures of proximal tibia: A proximal tibial fracture is a break in the upper part of the shin bone or tibia. Proximal tibial fractures may or may not involve the knee joint. Fractures that enter the knee joint may cause joint imperfections, irregular joint surfaces, and improper alignment in the legs. This can lead to as joint instability, arthritis, and loss of motion. These fractures are caused by stress or trauma or in a bone already compromised by disease, such as cancer or infection. Proximal tibia fractures can result in injury to the surrounding soft tissues including skin, muscle, nerves, blood vessels, and ligaments.
  • Tibial shaft fractures: A tibial shaft fracture is a break that occurs along the length of the tibia or shin bone (larger bone of the lower leg) between the knee and ankle joints. These fractures can occur while playing sports such as soccer and skiing.

The symptoms of tibia fracture include painful weight bearing movements, tenseness around the knee, limitation of movement and deformity around the knee. In some individuals, impairment of blood supply secondary to the fracture may result in a pale or cool foot. Patients may also experience numbness or feelings of ‘pins and needles’ in the foot as a result of associated nerve injury.

The diagnosis of tibial fracture is based on the medical history including history of any previous injuries, complete physical examination and imaging studies. The physician will evaluate a soft tissue around the joint to identify any signs of nerve or blood vessel injury. Multiple X-rays and other imaging studies such as CT and MRI scans may be used to identify the location and severity of the fracture.

The management of the fracture is based on the severity of the fracture, medical condition of the patient and the patient’s lifestyle.

Non-surgical treatment comprises of immobilizing the fractured site with the help of casts or braces to prevent weight bearing and to help the healing process. X-rays are taken at regular intervals to assess the healing process. Weight bearing and movement are initiated gradually, depending on the nature of the injury and the condition of the patient.

Surgical treatment is considered to maintain alignment of the fractured bone. External or internal fixators may be used to align the fractured bone segments. If the fracture does not involve the knee joint, rods and plates can be used to stabilize the fracture. For a fracture involving the knee joint, a bone graft may be required to prevent the knee joint from collapsing. An external fixator is used when the surrounding soft tissue is severely damaged, as the use of plate and screw may be harmful.

As the tibial fracture usually involves the weight bearing joint it may cause long term problems such as loss of knee motion or instability and long term arthritis. Hence a rehabilitation program is initiated along with the treatment comprising of instructions on weight bearing, knee movements, and the use of external devices such as braces.

Thighbone (Femur) Fracture

The femur or thigh bone is the longest and strongest bone in the body, connecting the hip to the knee. A femur fracture is a break in the femur. The distal femur is the lower part of the thigh bone which flares out like an upside-down funnel and its lower end is covered by a smooth, slippery articular cartilage that protects and cushions the bone during movement. Fracture of the distal femur may involve the cartilaginous surface of the knee as well and result in arthritis.

Types

  • Distal femur fracture: The distal femur is part of the femur bone that flares out like the mouth of the funnel. A distal femur (top part of knee joint) fracture is a break in thighbone that occurs just above your knee joint.
  • Femoral shaft fracture: A femoral shaft fracture is a break that occurs anywhere along the femoral shaft, long, straight part of the femur.
  • Proximal femur fracture: A hip fracture or proximal femur fracture is a break in the proximal end of the thigh bone near the hip.

Femur fractures may be caused by high energy injuries such as a fall from height or a motor vehicle accident. Patients with osteoporosis, bone tumor or infections, or a history of knee replacement are more prone to femur fractures. In the elderly, even a simple fall from a standing position may result in a fracture as the bones tend to become weak and fragile with advancing age.

Sudden, severe pain along with swelling and bruising are the predominant symptoms of femur fracture. The site is tender to touch with a visible physical deformity and shortening of the leg.

The diagnosis of femur fracture is based on the patient’s medical history including history of any previous injuries, complete physical examination and imaging studies. The physician will evaluate the soft tissue around the joint to identify any signs of nerve or blood vessel injury. Multiple X-rays and other imaging studies such as CT and MRI scans may be used to identify the location and severity of the fracture.

The management of the fracture is based on the severity of the fracture, medical condition of the patient and the patient’s lifestyle.

Non-surgical treatment comprises of immobilizing the fractured site with the help of casts or braces to prevent weight bearing and to help the healing process. X-rays are taken at regular intervals to assess the healing process. Weight bearing and movement are initiated gradually, depending on the nature of the injury and the condition of the patient.

Surgical treatment is considered to realign the fractured bone. The use of advanced technology and special materials has improved the surgical outcome even in older patients. External or internal fixation or a knee replacement may be required depending on the extent of the fracture. Timing of the surgery is an important factor in improving the surgical outcome.

Timing of surgery

In most cases, the surgery is delayed for a few days to develop an effective treatment plan and for preparation of the patient. With most distal femur fractures the surgery can be delayed unless the fracture is open to the environment.

External fixator

An external fixator is used when the surrounding soft tissue is severely damaged, as the use of plates and screws may be harmful. The external fixator maintains the alignment of the bone till surgery.

Once the patient is prepared for surgery, the surgeon removes the external fixator and places internal fixation devices into the bone during surgery.

Internal fixator

The internal fixation may be performed using intramedullary nailing or plates and screws. In intramedullary nailing a metal rod is inserted into the marrow canal of the femur to keep the fractured fragment in position. In the plate and screw method the bone fragments are realigned and held together with screws and plates, attached to the outer surface of the bone. If the fracture is of the comminuted type or the bone has broken into many pieces, plates or rods may be used at the ends of the fracture without disturbing the smaller pieces. The plate or rod will maintain the shape or strength of the bone till it heals. In elderly patients and those with poor bone quality, bone grafting may be used to improve the healing. Knee replacement may also be considered in complicated fractures or those with poor bone quality.

Knee replacement

Artificial implants may be used to replace the fractured segments of the bone and joint.

Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation of the femur fracture depends upon several factors such as age, general health of the patient and the type of fracture. As the femur fracture usually involves the weight bearing joint it may cause long term problems such as loss of knee motion or instability and long term arthritis. Hence a rehabilitation program is initiated along with the treatment comprising of instructions on weight bearing, knee movements, and the use of external devices such as braces.

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