Have you ever watched a fighting movie or possibly quite violent one that shows how serious it can be when their leg is injured? Maybe even saw a broken leg? You probably know that such injury can be fatal and as portrayed in movies or series, that person either dies or literally dies right away. Specifically, a broken femur or in other word a broken thighbone sounds serious, doesn’t it? Is it not though? In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will be learning about broken femur and know if it is considered as a serious condition.

Before we proceed to knowing what is broken femur, you might want to know little but more on femur first. Femur is deemed to be the longest, strongest and heavuest bone in the human body. Weight bearing (activities involve one carrying their bodyweight on feet such as walking or standing) and stability of gait (stable walk) are the main function of the femur. These are all made possible by the bone characteristics and various muscles that protect it. There are 4 important muscles for the thigh which are quadriceps located at the front, hamstrings at the back, groin muscles and gluteal muscles. This explains why it would be rare to see the bone pierce the skin if there is broken femur. The fact that femur is the strongest bone, it can support up to 30 times of the body weight. Hence, when it breaks, certainly there is an immense force exerting on the bone such as from a vehicle accident.

Broken femur is a medical term describing a broken thighbone. There are few common types of a broken femur:

  • Transverse fracture- broken femur across the bone shaft in a horizontal line
  • Oblique fracture- broken femur at an angle
  • Spiral fracture- fracture line on the bone resembling a corkscrew, typically caused by twisting thigh
  • Comminuted fracture- bone breaks into pieces resulted from tremendous force on the bone
  • Compound fracture- also known as open fractures, there is break in the skin caused by the broken bone

The most common cause mediating broken femur is trauma, typically direct hit to the thigh or force transmitted indirectly through the knee. The chances for a person to develop broken femur increases in the elderly due to bone weakness such as from osteoporosis. Other causes include fall from heights and gunshots. Less common causes are stress fracture from overuse among military personnel and athletes.

Main symptoms of broken femur are pain in the thigh and inability to use the leg such as difficulty to stand or walk. Very rare patients with a broken femur can walk with a broken femur. Other symptoms include unstable legs, fractured legs that seem shorter and distorted compared to the contrary leg, abnormal sensation such as loss of sensation, tingling and numbness of the leg and swelling. If there is a wound, it might be suspected as a broken femur bone has pierced the skin. Hematoma or bruised skin can be seen on the thigh. Hematoma can be indicative of an internal bleeding of the thigh which can be dangerous. Internal bleeding can cause instability of a patient ‘s general condition that is marked with low blood pressure and increased heart rate.

The question of is broken femur serious or not, the answer is, yes it can be serious. This is because it can be a life-threatening event if left untreated or attended by healthcare professionals. Complications such as blood clots and infection can be lethal to patients. This can be made worse with heavy or uncontrollable bleeding. Broken femur is also very serious in the elderly due to the reports showing that in 10 years’ time, elderly that suffered broken femur are high in mortality rate. The elderly also will have higher chances for other medical conditions such as infection or septic shock. Furthermore, it leads the elderly to become dependent on others and unable to fully function or capable of taking care of themselves. Eventually, they will have a worsening quality of life both physically and mentally.

The good news is, most broken femur does heal within a month, provided that patient received medical treatment. Early surgery can improve outcomes and few complications. It will normally take around 3 to 6 months to heal completely. It may take longer to heal if it was an open fracture or bone broken to pieces. Recovery in the elderly may be slower than other age group populations. Patients who use tobacco products will have a longer time to heal as such products interfere with the healing process. Patients should attend physical therapy to help recover faster and to restore the leg function. It is important to follow all advice or instructions from healthcare providers so that patients can return to their daily life routine sooner. Broken femur not only takes a toll on a person’s physical health but also mental health. Hence, patients need to get all the support they need to recover faster and be able to function in society.