Tibia and fibula are the two major bones in the lower leg region. Fibula is smaller than tibia, and runs parallel to tibia. It is located on the lateral or outer side of tibia. Tibia, which is also referred to as the shinbone, is thicker than fibula. Tibia is the weight-bearing bone and is more susceptible to fractures.
Since tibia and fibula lie close to each other, the impact or the force that causes the tibia to fracture, may pass on to the fibula as well. This is the reason behind the high incidence of injuries with damage to both these bones. High impact trauma to the lower leg during an accident or a fall from a height could cause these bones to crack. Rolling or twisting of the ankle could also be responsible for causing a fractured fibula.
Causes and Symptoms
A broken fibula is usually associated with a tibia fracture. Since the fibula is located on the outer side of the lower leg, a severe blow to the side of the lower leg may cause a fibula fracture. Fibula fracture may concur with severe ankle sprains. Rolling, twisting or awkward bending of the ankle joint that may occur due to downhill running or running on hard surfaces may cause the fibula to stretch beyond its range of motion.
This is the reason why runners, sprinters or soccer players are more susceptible to a fibula stress fracture. Soccer, basketball and rugby are some of the sports that involve extensive use of lower legs. The players have to keep changing directions while running. If the ankle rolls while running or one has an awkward landing from a jump, the fibula bone may get stretched beyond its range of motion. This may cause it to break. The symptoms of a fibula fracture would depend on the severity of fracture.
If both tibia as well as fibula have been fractured, one is likely to suffer from severe pain while walking. Tibia is the weight-bearing bone of the lower leg, so one's range of motion gets adversely affected if tibia is fractured. If it is just the fibula that has been fractured, one is likely to experience pain along the outer leg. Pain, swelling, bruising and tenderness at the site of injury are other symptoms that one may experience in event of a fractured fibula.
Treatment and Recovery
The treatment of a broken fibula depends on the type of fracture as well as the severity of the fracture. An X-ray examination or a bone scan can help the doctors ascertain the type of fracture one has suffered from along with the extent of the damage. If the tibia is intact and only the fibula has sustained an injury, doctors often incorporate the RICE principle in the initial stages of the treatment.
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. This approach often forms a part of home treatment or self-care measures for a cracked fibula. Taking rest helps the body recuperate in a much better way, while application of ice can help in alleviating the swelling. Use of compression bandages provide support to the fractured bone and also reduce swelling, whereas keeping the affected part elevated above the level of the heart also helps in reducing the swelling.
The treatment of a fractured fibula also involves the use of analgesics or anti-inflammatory drugs. If the pain is severe, doctors may even prescribe steroids. If tibia has been fractured as well, and the X-ray examination indicates a displaced or a compound fibula fracture, the healing process tends to be slower. Displaced fractures or compound fractures are usually a cause of concern. Surgical intervention may be needed if the bone has broken into fragments.
The displaced fragments will need to be realigned with the help of metal plates that are held together with screws. Under these circumstances, one may take three to four months to recover. The patient will have to wear a cast and take ample rest to speed up recovery. Immobilization of the affected leg is an important part of the treatment. Once the bone has healed considerably, one will need to go for physiotherapy sessions. Performing joint strengthening exercises during the recovery period will help the patient recover the normal range of motion.
How long a person may take to recover from a broken fibula would vary depending on a variety of factors. The patient's failure to comply with the guidelines given by the doctor is one of the common reasons that may slow down the recovery process. So, to be up on their feet soon, patients must religiously follow the advice of their doctor.