The tibia, commonly known as the shin bone, is the larger of the two bones in the lower leg. It is one of the bones that’s most often broken. Symptoms of a tibia fracture can be as mild as bruising or as severe as intense pain in the lower leg. Your doctor will examine the area and conduct some tests before deciding how to treat the injury. Surgery may be necessary in some cases and recovery can take from four to six months.
Tibia fractures are often caused by traffic accidents, falls from great heights or onto hard surfaces, and the twisting movements common in certain sports. Type 2 diabetes and bone conditions like osteoarthritis make tibia fractures more likely.
Depending on how badly the bone has been broken, symptoms can range from numbness or tingling in the foot, swelling, and bruising to difficulty walking; a deformity in the lower leg, shin or ankle; or bone protruding through the skin. You may also have limited motion in the knee and be unable to bear weight. A tibia fracture may also affect the fibula, the other bone in the lower part of the leg.
If you have these symptoms, your doctor will take your medical history then perform a physical examination. He or she will take note of any recent trauma as well as risk factors which may make you prone to bone fracture. In addition to looking for visible signs of injury, the doctor will also test your muscle strength and whether you respond to stimulation in the lower leg, foot, and ankle.
X-rays, CT scans, bone scans and MRI scans may be ordered so the doctor can get a better look at the injury. If you have an open fracture where the bone is penetrating through a wound in the skin, multiple bones have been broken, or a major artery or nerve has been injured, you may need to be taken to surgery.
Types of Tibia Fracture
Tibia fractures can take several forms. In a stable fracture, the broken ends of the bone stay properly aligned. A displaced tibia fracture occurs when the bone is moved out of place when it breaks, and the ends no longer align. This is a serious injury that may require surgery. A comminuted fracture is the most unstable and severe case. This is when the bone breaks into three or more pieces. Some fractures, such as those of the oblique variety, may be fairly stable at first but become displaced over time. A spiral fracture can occur if the break is caused by a twisting motion.
Treatment and Recovery
Your doctor will take a number of factors into consideration before treating your tibia fracture. These include the extent of the injury, your overall health and the cause of the injury. If surgery is not required, the injured leg may be placed in a cast or splint and you may be given anti-inflammatory drugs or painkillers. Physical therapy may also be recommended along with exercises at home.
Open fractures, comminuted breaks or unstable bones or limbs may make surgery necessary. An operation may also be the only option if non-surgical treatments fail to work. Surgery on the tibia usually takes the form of internal or external fixation. Internal fixation involves the use of screws, rods or plates to hold the tibia together. In external fixation, screws or pins in the fracture are connected to a metal bar outside the leg. This offers extra stability.
Recovery time varies depending on the type of fracture and how complicated it was. Some shaft fractures heal in about four months while more serious breaks can require at least six months to heal. Your general health at the time of the break and whether you undergo consistent therapy afterward can make a major difference during the recovery process.