The tibia, or shinbone, is the most commonly fractured long bone in the body. A tibial shaft fracture occurs along the length of the bone, below the knee and above the ankle.
It typically takes a major force to cause this type of broken leg. Motor vehicle collisions, for example, are a common cause of tibial shaft fractures. In many tibia fractures, the smaller bone in the lower leg (fibula) is broken as well.
The lower leg is made up of two bones: the tibia and fibula. The tibia is the larger of the two bones. It supports most of your weight and is an important part of both the knee joint and ankle joint.
What are the different types of shinbone fractures?
Tibia fractures vary greatly, depending on the force that causes the break. The pieces of bone may line up correctly (stable fracture) or be out of alignment (displaced fracture). The skin around the fracture may be intact (closed fracture) or the bone may puncture the skin (open fracture). In many tibia fractures, the fibula is broken as well.
Doctors describe fractures to each other using classification systems. Tibia fractures are classified depending on:
- The location of the fracture (the tibial shaft is divided into thirds: distal, middle, and proximal)
- The pattern of the fracture (for example, the bone can break in different directions, such as crosswise, lengthwise, or in the middle)
- Whether the skin and muscle over the bone is torn by the injury (open fracture)
The most common types of tibial shaft fractures include:
Transverse fracture: In this type of fracture, the break is a straight horizontal line going across the tibial shaft.
Oblique fracture: This type of fracture has an angled line across the shaft
Spiral fracture: The fracture line encircles the shaft like the stripes on a candy cane. This type of fracture is caused by a twisting force.
Comminuted fracture: In this type of fracture, the bone breaks into three or more pieces.
Open fracture: If a bone breaks in such a way that bone fragments stick out through the skin or a wound penetrates down to the broken bone, the fracture is called an open or compound fracture. Open fractures often involve much more damage to the surrounding muscles, tendons, and ligaments. They have a higher risk for complications—especially infections—and take a longer time to heal
What causes shinbone fractures?
Tibial shaft fractures are often caused by some type of high-energy collision, such as a motor vehicle or motorcycle crash. In cases like these, the bone can be broken into several pieces (comminuted fracture).
Sports injuries, such as a fall while skiing or a collision with another player during soccer, are lower-energy injuries that can cause tibial shaft fractures. These fractures are typically caused by a twisting force and result in an oblique or spiral fracture.
What are the symptoms of a shinbone fracture?
A tibial shaft fracture usually causes immediate, severe pain. Other symptoms may include:
- Inability to walk or bear weight on the leg
- Deformity or instability of the leg
- Bone "tenting" over the skin at the fracture site or bone protruding through a break in the skin
- Occasional loss of feeling in the foot