The tibia (shinbone) is the most commonly fractured long bone in the body. A tibial shaft fracture is when the tibia bone fractures anywhere below the knee and above the ankle. A proximal tibia fracture is when the shinbone specifically breaks just below the knee.
The lower leg is made up of the tibia and the fibula. The tibia is the larger of the two bones and supports over 80 percent of your weight. Additionally, the tibia is an important part of the knee and ankle joint.
Types of proximal tibia fractures
With a broken proximal tibia, the tibia can break straight across (transverse) or into many pieces (comminuted).
Proximal tibia fractures can be closed, meaning the skin is intact, or open. An open fracture is when a bone breaks in such a way that bone fragments stick out through the skin. Open fractures often involve much more damage to the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments. They have a higher risk of problems like infection and take a longer time to heal.
A proximal tibia fracture is a medical emergency. Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. OrthoIndy Trauma physicians are at St.Vincent Indianapolis Level I Trauma Center. OrthoIndy also has urgent care clinics conveniently located throughout Indianapolis.
Cause of a broken proximal tibia
- Trauma injury such as a direct blow or fall from a height
- A minor break from unusual or excessive activity
- Infected or weak bone from cancer or another disease
Proximal tibia fracture symptoms
- Pain that heightens when weight is placed on the leg
- Swelling around the knee
- Limited bending at the knee joint
- Deformity of the knee
- A pale look in the foot due to loss of blood supply
- Foot numbness on the affected leg
To determine whether you have a proximal tibia fracture, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, ask questions about the injury and how it occurred, and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray will confirm the diagnosis. On occasion, a CT scan and MRI may be needed.
Proximal tibia fracture treatment
Nonsurgical broken proximal tibia
Nonsurgical treatment may be recommended for patients who are poor surgical candidates due to their overall health or age, or if they have a closed fracture with minimal displacement and are stable. A cast will be used to immobilize the patient while the tibia heals. This is rare and typically a tibia is treated with surgery.
Surgical treatment for a proximal tibia fracture
Your physician may recommend surgery if you have an open fracture or if your fracture is unstable because of displacement or the bone is in many fragments.
Also, surgery is indicated if your proximal tibia fracture is not healed with nonsurgical methods. Most proximal tibia fractures will be treated with a rod and less commonly, plate and screws. The decision of how to fix the fracture will be made by your orthopedic surgeon.
The amount of time it takes to return to daily activities varies with different types of fractures. Some proximal tibia fractures heal within four months, yet many may take six months or longer to heal. This is particularly true with open fractures and fractures in patients who are less healthy. Most patient’s function is still improving a year out from the injury.
Learn more about trauma care at OrthoIndy.
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