Broken Leg | Symptoms & Causes

What is a broken leg (leg fracture)?

If your child has a leg fracture, it means that one of the bones in his leg has partially or completely broken. Fractures can occur in one or more of the three main bones in the leg: the femur, the tibia and (less commonly) the fibula.

How are the bones of the leg different?

Femur (thigh bone)

  • The femur is the largest, longest and strongest bone in your child’s body. The upper part of the femur fits into the hip joint at the pelvis. The lower part of the femur connects to the top of the tibia, forming the knee joint.
  • Because of the femur’s great strength, it tends to break only when impacted with great force. A broken femur is a serious injury.

Tibia (shin bone)

  • The second-largest bone, the tibia supports your child’s weight. The top of the tibia is part of the knee joint at and the lower end of the tibia is part of the ankle joint.
  • A broken tibia is the most common long-bone injury.

Fibula (calf bone)

  • The fibula is the smaller of the two lower-leg bones. The top end of the fibula serves as an attachment point for a section of the hamstrings. The lower end of the fibula forms part of the ankle joint, helping to stabilize the ankle.
  • A “broken ankle” is a term that usually refers to a broken fibula.

What are the causes of broken legs in children?

A bone break happens when there’s more force applied to the bone than it can absorb. These breaks in bones can occur from falls, trauma or a direct blow.

Most childhood fractures result from:

  • falling, as from stairs or jungle gym 
  • trauma (mild to moderate) that happens while they’re playing and participating in sports
  • overuse, as from repetitive sports or dance motions

Certain risk factors may also increase a child’s chances of getting a leg fracture.

What are the symptoms of a broken leg in children?

Your child’s leg may be broken if:

  • you hear a “snap” or see a noticeable deformity
  • there is pain, swelling, bruising, redness or tenderness
  • it is painful or difficult to move the leg normally or put weight on it
  • in toddlers: a refusal to walk

When to see a doctor

Seek medical care immediately if your child displays any of symptoms of a broken leg.

Do not move your child and call 911 immediately if:

  • your child has an open fracture (the bone is visible through the skin)
  • you suspect that your child's neck or back is injured.