Tibial Shaft Fractures

What is a Tibial Shaft Fracture?

The tibia is also known as your shin bone, the larger bone in your lower leg, it is located below your knee and above your ankle. A fracture is a broken bone. Usually, a tibial shaft fracture occurs by an outside force or trauma, such as a car accident or other injury. The force of the break determines the severity of the fracture.

Signs and Symptoms of Tibial Shaft Fractures

  • Pain and inability to walk or put pressure through affected side
  • Instability of leg
  • Bone protrusion through the skin (open fracture)
  • Potential numbness or loss of feeling in foot
  • Swelling

Treatment for Tibial Shaft Fractures

Your doctor will assess your injuries by completing a physical examination as well as reviewing your medical history. You will be taken for an X-ray. An X-ray is the best way to determine what type of fracture you have and the location of the fracture. If your doctor wants to obtain more information after your X-ray, they will then request a CT scan. CT scans are a more detailed allowing them to see the fracture more clearly.

Click to learn the differences of X-Ray vs MRI vs CT scan.

Non-Surgical Treatment for a Tibial Shaft Fracture

After further evaluation your doctor will decide between surgical and non-surgical treatment options. Good candidates for non-surgical treatment include people who aren’t active and/or have other health problems. Someone with a closed fracture with minimal movement of fracture ends would also be a good applicant for non-surgical treatment. 

Initially, you will be given a splint to assist with swelling and immobilization. Once the swelling has decreased you will be fit for a cast, which will be worn for several weeks. Lastly, you will transition to a functional brace to assist with overall protection and support.

Click to Learn about ActivArmor waterproof and hygenic Casting.

X-ray image of tibial shaft fracture in 2 places and fibula fracture. Image of tibia after open reduction internal fixation surgery or ORIF on x-rayTibial Shaft Fracture

Surgery for Tibial Shaft Fractures

Surgical treatment is recommended for open fractures, fractures with bone fragments, and fractures that did not heal with non-surgical treatment. There are a few different surgical methods utilized to treat tibial shaft fractures. Intramedullary nailing is the most common method, it consists of inserting a metal rod into the tibial canal and intramedullary nails are screwed into both ends of the bone. 

Plates and screws are another method used, usually when intramedullary nailing isn’t possible. Bone fragments are repositioned then held together by screws and plates on the outside surface of the bone. This is called Open Reduction Internal Fixation (ORIF).

External fixation method places metal pins or screws above and below the fracture site and attaches to a bar outside of the skin.

Recovery and Physical Therapy Tibial Shaft Surgery

A tibial shaft fracture can take from four to six months (or longer) to heal completely. Pain is to be expected so you will be prescribed medication to manage your symptoms. After your surgery or immobilization your doctor will put you on weight-bearing status restrictions to allow for proper healing. However, it is still important to continue moving your ankle and complying with physical therapy. A physical therapist will assist you in the hospital and at your home. Once your non-weight-bearing restrictions are lifted your PT will teach you how to ambulate with an assistive device. Continuation of out-patient physical therapy will assist with your return to work and normal lifestyle.

Related Links:

If you have an injury, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute can help. To see a JOI Orthopedic Doctor, call (904)JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below. To see a JOI Rehab Therapist in 1 of our 12 locations, call (904)858-7045.

By: Mariah True, PTA

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