The femur — your thigh bone — is the largest and strongest bone in your body. When the femur breaks, it takes a long time to heal. Breaking your femur can make everyday tasks much more difficult because it’s one of the main bones used to walk.
- You feel immediate, severe pain.
- You’re unable to put weight on the injured leg.
- The injured leg appears to be shorter than the uninjured leg.
- The injured leg appears to be crooked.
The femur is a very large, strong bone that is difficult to break. A broken femur is usually caused by a severe accident; vehicle accidents are one of the primary causes.
Older adults can fracture their femur from a fall because their bones tend to be weaker. Depending on how close to the hip the break is, it may be called a hip fracture instead of a femur fracture.
In most cases, your doctor will start with an X-ray. If more information is needed, they might also order a CT (computed tomography) scan. Before recommending specific treatment, your doctor will determine what type of break you have. The most common types are:
- Transverse fracture. The break is a straight horizontal line.
- Oblique fracture. The break has an angled line.
- Spiral fracture. The break has a line that encircles the shaft like the stripes on a barber pole or candy cane.
- Comminuted fracture. The bone is broken into three or more pieces.
- Compound fracture. Bone fragments are sticking out through the skin.
- Open fracture. A wound penetrates down to the broken bone.
Because the femur is such a strong bone, a broken femur (excluding hip fractures) is rare. The healing process typically takes up to six months, going through four phases:
- The body starts the healing process.
- The body experiences inflammation.
- The body regenerates with new bone growth.
- The body remodels with mature bone being replaced by newly formed bone.
The majority of broken femurs require surgery and medication.
There are different surgeries, either internal or external, to hold the bones in place while they heal. The most common surgery for a broken femur is called intramedullary nailing. This surgery inserts a rod into the length of the bone with screws above and below to hold it into place.
Before and after surgery, your doctor may help you manage your pain with over-the-counter and prescription medications, such as:
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- muscle relaxants
- topical pain medications
Complications can arise with femur breaks.
- Proper setting. If the femur is not set properly, there’s a chance the leg will become shorter than the other one and may cause hip or knee pain many years later. Poor alignment of the femur bone may also be painful.
- Peripheral damage. The break may also injure the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves of the leg.
- Surgical complications. Some complications related to surgery include infection and blood clots.
Following a femur break, once the bone is set back into its proper place and is stable, your doctor will most likely recommend physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the bone. Exercises to strengthen the thigh will also help with the return to flexibility and normal function of the leg.
A broken femur will usually have a major effect on your life, but only temporarily. Surgeries are routinely effective and people are typically able to completely heal from a broken femur. In the majority of broken femurs, patients return to a normal lifestyle.