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(Broken Shin; Lower Leg Break; Tibia Fracture)
A shinbone fracture is a break in the tibia. The tibia is the larger of 2 bones in the lower leg that connects the knee to the ankle. It runs on the inside of the lower leg. The fibula is much smaller and runs along the outside of the lower leg.
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A shinbone fracture is caused by trauma to the shinbone. Trauma includes:
- Gunshot wounds
Factors that may increase the chance of a shinbone fracture include:
- Increased age
- Certain diseases or conditions that result in bone or mineral loss, such as abnormal or absent menstrual cycles
- Having gone through menopause
- Certain diseases and conditions that weaken bones, such as tumors or cysts
- Decreased muscle mass
Playing certain sports that may result in:
- Spiral fractures—associated with collisions or falls from sports such as soccer or skiing
- Stress fractures—associated with overuse or repetitive motion from sports such as gymnastics or dance
- Violence, such as car or car-pedestrian accidents
Shinbone fracture may cause:
- Pain that ranges from mild to severe, but worsens with activity
- Swelling, inflammation, and tenderness
- Bruising in the injured area
- Decreased range of motion of the knee or ankle
- Inability to bear weight on the fractured leg
You will be asked about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The injured area will be examined.
The bones of your lower leg may need to be viewed. This can be done with:
Proper treatment can prevent long-term complications or problems with the shinbone. Treatment will depend on how serious the fracture is, but may include:
Extra support may be needed to protect, support, and keep the shinbone in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include a splint, brace, walking boot, or cast. A walker or crutches will promote mobility while keeping weight off the leg.
Some fractures cause pieces of bone to separate. The doctor will need to put these pieces back into their proper place. This may be done:
- Without surgery—anesthesia will be used to decrease pain while the doctor moves the pieces back into place
- With surgery—pins, screws, plates, or a rod may be needed to reconnect the pieces and hold them in place
Children’s bones are still growing at an area of the bone called the growth plate. If the fracture affected the growth plate, a specialist may be needed. Injuries to the growth plate will need to be monitored to make sure the bone can continue to grow as expected.
Prescription or over-the-counter medications may be given to help reduce inflammation and pain.
Medications may include acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Rest and Recovery
Healing time varies by age and your overall health. Children and people in better overall health heal faster. In general, it takes up to 4-6 months for a fractured shinbone to heal.
You will need to adjust your activities while your shinbone heals, but complete rest is rarely required. Ice and elevating your leg at rest may also be recommended to help with discomfort and swelling.
As you recover, you may be referred to physical therapy or rehabilitation to start range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor gives you permission to do so.
To help reduce your chance of a shinbone fracture:
- Do weight-bearing and strengthening exercises regularly to build strong bones.
- Wear proper padding and safety equipment when participating in sports or activities.
- Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the bone.
To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps:
- Clean spills and slippery areas right away.
- Remove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutter.
- Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.
- Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub.
- Put in handrails on both sides of stairways.
- Walk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and halls.
- Keep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage.
American Physical Therapy Association
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Fractures of the proximal tibia (shinbone). Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00393. Updated July 2013. Accessed September 7, 2017.
Giannoudis PV, Papakostidis C, et al. A review of the management of open fractures of the tibia and femur. J Bone & Joint Surg (British Vol). 2006;88:281-289.
Tibia (shinbone) shaft fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00522. Updated March 2010. Accessed September 7, 2017.
Tibial plateau fracture. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116325/Tibial-plateau-fracture . Updated December 22, 2015. Accessed September 7, 2017.
What are ways to prevent falls and related fractures? National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health%5FInfo/Bone/Osteoporosis/Fracture/prevent%5Ffalls%5Fff.asp. Updated November 2014. Accessed September 7, 2017.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
- Review Date: 09/2018
- Update Date: 09/30/2013