7 Tips for Recovering With a Broken Leg

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Catherine Spader on November 6, 2020
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    A Closer Look at the Recovery Process
    A broken leg can take you out of your activities for weeks to months. Recovery from a broken or fractured leg depends on the type, location, and complexity of the fracture. For example, a fractured thighbone (femur) generally takes more time and complex treatment than a broken fibula in the lower leg. Read on to learn more about broken legs and tips to make your recovery as smooth as possible.
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    1. Discuss Recovery Strategies
    Your goals during recovery are to manage your symptoms and regain pain-free pre-injury leg function. This can take a long time and be quite a challenge depending on the type of leg fracture. In some cases, leg function and walking gait may never return to pre-injury levels. Talk to your doctor from the very beginning about the best strategies for your recovery goals and what you can expect.
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    2. Manage Your Symptoms
    Common symptoms of a broken leg include pain, tenderness, bruising and swelling. You can manage these symptoms by following PRICE—protection, rest, ice, compression and elevation. This may be necessary for at least 48 hours. Ask your doctor about taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Complex fractures may require narcotic pain medications and other measures.
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    3. Bear Weight as Directed
    Your doctor may tell you not to put weight on your leg for several weeks to months as the bone heals. Properly-fitted crutches or a walker will help you get around during this time. Some types of fractures can heal with weight bearing, but you will likely wear a rigid boot to provide stability for walking. When you are ready to walk unaided, it’s important not to overload your bone. Depending on your age and the injury, it can take several months to a year or more to regain full bone strength.
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    4. Follow Instructions for Activities
    Some simple leg fractures allow you to move around right away. Complex and thighbone (femur) fractures may require a period of traction and bed rest, or surgery. In either case, you’ll add activities and intensity slowly. Follow your doctor’s instructions. Doing too much can cause problems, such as movement of the broken bone. If your leg starts to hurt or swell, it’s time to rest it. Ask your doctor when it is safe to return to daily activities, work, and other activities.
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    5. Go to Physical Therapy
    Your doctor will likely recommend therapeutic exercises or physical therapy to help you heal. This includes range of motion, stretching, and strengthening exercises. For simple fractures, your doctor may recommend exercises you can do at home. In other cases, you may work with a physical therapist. These exercises can be painful at first. Talk to your doctor or therapist about managing the pain so you can reach your recovery goals.
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    6. Watch for Problems
    It’s important to be aware of possible complications while your leg recovers. Call your doctor right away if you have fever, color changes in the foot or leg, numbness, tingling, or more swelling or pain than expected. These could be signs of a complication. Arthritis and chronic pain can occur long-term after a leg fracture. Talk to your doctor if your symptoms are not going away or return after your leg heals.
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    7. Prevent Future Injuries
    Your doctor or physical therapist will suggest ways to prevent future injuries. This includes building muscle strength around the bone and starting new activities slowly. You may need to vary your exercise routine to reduce stress on bones. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is vital for bone strength. Ask your doctor if you need supplements. Safety measures are also key, including wearing protective sports gear, clearing hazards at home that can cause a fall, and using seat belts or car seats.
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    Recovery Success
    The ideal recovery from a broken leg returns you to pre-injury leg function without pain. This may not be possible in all cases, but you can do your part to get there. Remember to start slowly. Putting too much stress on your leg too soon can cause problems. Your doctor will check your progress as your leg heals. Follow your recovery and rehabilitation plan, and be sure to call your doctor with any concerns.
7 Tips for Recovering With a Broken Leg

About The Author

  1. Broken leg. NHS Choices. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/broken-leg/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. Femur Shaft Fractures (Broken Thighbone). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00521
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 6
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.