Broken leg

Recovery time for an upper leg fracture may take 6 months to a year to heal, while a lower leg fracture can heal in 4 to 6 months.

The time a broken leg (fracture) takes to recover or heal varies between people. Recovery depends on the section of the leg that has been broken or fractured, general health, and the type of therapy required.

Physical therapy is almost always part of the rehabilitation process for all leg fractures. It can take anywhere between six and eight weeks or a few months to completely heal a broken bone. It may take many months or perhaps longer, even a year for a severe leg fracture to heal if the doctor suggests surgery, physical treatment, and exercise.

The three primary bones in the leg that might fracture are the fibula, femur, and tibia. The femur, which is the longest bone in the body, is located in the upper leg (thigh). Fractures of this bone often necessitate surgery. The shinbone or tibia and the smaller bone, fibula, are the other two bones in the lower leg. These two bones frequently break together. These fractures may require surgery in some circumstances.

The following factors may have an impact on recovery time and increase the risk of complications:

  • Underlying medical or health conditions, such as obesity, alcoholism, diabetes, smoking, malnutrition, immune disorders, steroid medications, can delay healing and increase the risk of complications.
  • The older the age, the slower the recovery process and the higher the risk of complications.
  • Other injuries that occurred at the time of the fracture can delay recovery and cause complications, depending on the extent of the injury.
  • Infection can delay healing and cause complications.

What are the different types of fractures?

There are different types of fractures, and the management and recovery vary with each.

The four main types of fractures seen in the leg include:

  1. Stable fracture: The bone pieces are close together and not out of place in a stable fracture. The most common therapy is splinting and casting.
  2. Dislocated fracture: The bone fragments are out of place. Splinting and casting are the most common treatments if they can be put back into place. Surgery may be required in some cases.
  3. Comminuted fracture: The bone gets shattered into multiple pieces. Because it is difficult to bring these pieces back into place, surgery is usually the best option.
  4. Compound fracture: Also called an open fracture. The broken bone punctures the skin or a skin wound has gone all the way down to the bone. Surgery must be performed right away.

How long do upper leg fractures take to recover?

A fractured femur (thigh bone) almost always necessitates surgery. A surgeon usually inserts a metal rod into the bone to keep it in place. The fracture can be supported using plates, screws, and pins. Doctors will most likely prescribe opioid pain medication, and it is important to follow the doctor's instructions when taking opioids.

When still in the hospital, physical treatment is usually started. Within a day or two, the physical therapist may be able to assist in getting up and walking. Crutches or a walker will usually be required. The amount of weight that can be placed on the affected leg will be determined by the doctor.

Before returning home, it may be needed to transfer from the hospital to a rehabilitation center where further care can be provided. Physical treatments will be supplied to help prepare for life at home. The physical therapist may use cold, heat, or a sound wave treatment on the affected leg to relieve discomfort.

Physical treatment begins with the hip, back, knee, and foot movement exercises. Strengthening workouts will be added over time. In about six months, people should be able to resume most activities. It could take up to a year for complete recovery and return to full activity.

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How long do lower leg fractures take to recover?

One or both bones in the lower leg (tibia and fibula) may get fractured. In case of severely displaced or comminuted lower leg fracture, surgery may be required. Metal plates or a rod are frequently inserted into the bone after surgery. The recuperation process will usually be similar to that of a fractured femur.

If the fracture is stable, surgery may not be needed. Instead, the doctor might advise a splint to keep the fracture in the proper position for healing. Swelling is accommodated by the splint. If the splint becomes too tight, it can be loosened. The doctor may decide to replace the splint with a cast after a few days.

While the fracture heals, it is usually required to use crutches or a walker. The doctor may advise a prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers to treat pain. Using an ice pack and positioning the affected leg as high as possible above the heart will help minimize pain and swelling.

Every few weeks, the doctor may take X-rays to assess how the fracture is healing. Patients can begin customized workouts or range of motion exercises to get their ankle, knee, and hip moving while wearing the cast, which will be removed after X-rays show that the fracture has healed sufficiently. The majority of patients require a cast for several weeks. After the cast is removed, the doctor may recommend wearing a removable brace.

The doctor will determine when it will be possible to put full weight on the affected leg. In about four months, it should be able to resume most activities. Complete recovery and returning to all activities can take four to six months or longer.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/29/2021
References
Buckley R. General Principles of Fracture Care Clinical Presentation. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1270717-clinical

Cleveland Clinic. Bone Fractures. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15241-bone-fractures

MedicineNet. What Are the 4 Types of Fractures? https://www.medicinenet.com/what_are_the_4_types_of_fractures/article.htm

Sheen JR, Garla VV. Fracture Healing Overview. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551678/

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Femur Shaft Fractures (Broken Thighbone). https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/femur-shaft-fractures-broken-thighbone/

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Tibia (Shinbone) Shaft Fractures. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/tibia-shinbone-shaft-fractures