The lower leg is made up of two bones, the tibia and fibula. The tibia is larger than the fibula, both in size and importance. The tibia is responsible for supporting most of the body’s weight while also playing a key role in both the ankle and knee joints. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the tibia is the most commonly fractured long bone in the body.
It takes major trauma or injury to break a long bone, so injuries to adjacent bone and soft tissue often occur along with these tibia fractures. Identifying and managing these injuries quickly can restore leg strength, motion, and stability.
To find out more about tibia fracture surgery, contact top orthopaedic surgeon Sonu Ahluwalia, M.D. You can also set up an appointment by calling 310.430.1310.
Types of Tibia Fractures
Not all tibia fractures are the same. The severity of the fracture usually correlates to the amount of force that caused the break. It is not uncommon for the fibula to break as well. The most common types of tibia fracture include:
A minor fracture where the ends of the bones still line up correctly
A fracture in which the broken ends of the bone are separated and do not line up
An unstable linear fracture in which the fibula is also commonly injured
An angled fracture that can be stable (minimally displaced) but becomes unstable without treatment
A circular fracture, usually caused by a twisting force
A highly unstable fracture in which the bone has broken into three or more pieces
A fracture in which the bone protrudes, sticking out through the skin of the leg
A fracture in which the bone does not protrude through the skin
Tibia Fracture Symptoms
A tibia fracture can be extremely painful, leaving most patients immobilized. If you think you have injured or broken your shinbone it is very important to seek immediate medical attention. Symptoms differ depending on the location and severity of the fracture, but they often include:
- Not being able to walk or put weight on the leg
- Deformity or instability of the leg
- Pain from the bone protruding through the skin
- Swelling and bruising
- Numbness or loss of feeling in the foot
- Limited range of motion of the knee or leg
- Deformity of the knee or leg
- Pale and/or cold foot due to impaired blood supply
- Sensation of “pins and needles,” due to nerve involvement
Tibia Fracture Diagnosis
Preoperative planning and diagnosis is arguably the most important part of treatment for all tibia fractures. This typically consists of:
- Discussion of symptoms and medical history
- Thorough physical examination
- Careful study of imaging tests
- Consideration of the severity of the fracture
- Consideration of the extent of soft tissue damage
- Determining which technique would most benefit the patient
- Choosing the correct fixation implant, screws, plates, nails, and/or rods
Tibia Fracture Surgery
The aim of tibia fracture surgery is to repair the bone and secure it in place as it heals. Dr. Ahluwalia will choose the appropriate method to repair the tibia depending on the cause of the injury, the severity of the fracture, and the extent of soft tissue damage.
There are 3 commonly used techniques to repair a fractured tibia:
- Intramedullary Rodding – A metal rod is placed down the center of the tibia to hold it in alignment as it heals. It will be safely secured within the tibia using screws to keep the bone stable.
- Plates and Screws – Although these are not used as commonly as rods or external fixators, plates and screws are often used to stabilize the fracture and help it heal correctly.
- External Fixation – This is the best option for severe tibial fractures with soft tissue damage. This surgery will stabilize the joint and address the associated soft tissue damage while the injury heals.
Recovery from Tibia Fracture Surgery
After tibia fracture surgery, you are likely to spend a few days in the hospital. Dr. Ahluwalia will prescribe medication such as painkillers, anticoagulants, and antibiotics. Most orthopaedic surgeons recommend leg motion early in the recovery process to prevent stiffness. You will have a follow up with Dr. Ahluwalia 7-10 days after your surgery. Further instructions for physical therapy and rehabilitation will be discussed at this time.