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Tibia and Fibula Fracture

  • Author: Jeffrey G Norvell, MD; Chief Editor: Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH  more...
 
Updated: Sep 17, 2015
 

Background

Lower leg fractures include fractures of the tibia and fibula. Of these two bones, the tibia is the only weightbearing bone. Fractures of the tibia generally are associated with fibula fracture, because the force is transmitted along the interosseous membrane to the fibula.

The skin and subcutaneous tissue are very thin over the anterior and medial tibia and as a result of this, a significant number of fractures to the lower leg are open. Even in closed fractures, the thin, soft tissue can become compromised. In contrast, the fibula is well covered by soft tissue over most of its course with the exception of the lateral malleolus.

The tibia and fibula articulate at the proximal tibia-fibular syndesmosis.

Fractures of the tibia can involve the tibial plateau, tibial tubercle, tibial eminence, proximal tibia, tibial shaft, and tibial plafond. See the image below.

Shown is an intra-articular fracture of the medialShown is an intra-articular fracture of the medial condyle of the tibial plateau.

For more information, see Medscape's Trauma Resource Center.

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Epidemiology

Frequency

United States

Fractures of the tibia are the most common long bone fractures. The annual incidence of open fractures of long bones is estimated to be 11.5 per 100,000 persons, with 40% occurring in the lower limb.[1] The most common fracture of the lower limb occurs at the tibial diaphysis.[2] Isolated midshaft or proximal fibula fractures are uncommon.

Mortality/Morbidity

Limb loss may occur as a result of severe soft-tissue trauma, neurovascular compromise, popliteal artery injury, compartment syndrome, or infection such as gangrene or osteomyelitis. Popliteal artery injury is a particularly serious injury that threatens the limb and is easily overlooked.

The common peroneal nerve crosses the fibular neck. This nerve is susceptible to injury from a fibular neck fracture, the pressure of a splint, or during surgical repair. This can result in foot drop and sensation abnormalities.

Delayed union, nonunion, and arthritis may occur. Among the long bones, the tibia is the most common site of fracture nonunion.

Age

Toddler fracture (distal spiral fracture of the tibia) is most common in children aged 9 months to 3 years.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Jeffrey G Norvell, MD Clinical Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, University of Kansas School of Medicine

Jeffrey G Norvell, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Mark Steele, MD Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Chief Medical Officer, Truman Medical Center, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine

Mark Steele, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Thomas M Cooper, MD Resident Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Kansas Medical Center

Thomas M Cooper, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Emergency Physicians, Society of Critical Care Medicine, Emergency Medicine Residents' Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

David B Levy, DO, FAAEM Senior Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Waikato District Health Board, New Zealand; Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine

David B Levy, DO, FAAEM is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, Fellowship of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, American Medical Informatics Association, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH Chief of Emergency Medicine, Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System; Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine

Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Michelle Ervin, MD Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Howard University Hospital

Michelle Ervin, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, National Medical Association, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Shown is an intra-articular fracture of the medial condyle of the tibial plateau.
Standard anteroposterior radiograph of a tibial shaft fracture with intramedullary nail fixation. Note the commonly associated fibular fracture that is also apparent.
Radiograph demonstrating a displaced tibial shaft fracture with associated fibula fracture.
Type II tibial plateau fracture in a young active adult with good bone stock treated with percutaneous elevation and cannulated cancellous screw fixation without bone grafting.
Type III tibial plateau fracture with central depression in an elderly person treated surgically using percutaneous elevation, bone grafting, and cancellous screw fixation.
Tibial plateau fractures. Line drawings of Schatzker types I, II, and III tibial plateau fractures. Type I consists of a wedge fracture of the lateral tibial plateau, produced by low-force injuries. Type II combines the wedge fracture of the lateral plateau with depression of the lateral plateau. Type III fractures are classified as those with depression of the lateral plateau but no associated wedge fracture.
Tibial plateau fractures. Line drawings of Schatzker types IV, V, and VI tibial plateau fractures. Type IV is similar to type I fracture, except that it involves the medial tibial plateau as opposed to the lateral plateau. Greater force is required to produce this type of injury. Type V fractures are termed bicondylar and demonstrate wedge fractures of both the medial and lateral tibial plateaus. Finally, type VI fractures consist of a type V fracture along with a fracture of the underlying diaphysis and/or metaphysis.
Tibial plateau fractures. CT image through the tibial plateau shows a fracture of the posterior aspect of the lateral tibial plateau, which is the source of the lipohemarthrosis.
Tibial plateau fractures. Axial CT image through the tibial shows a fracture through the lateral tibial plateau with slight diastasis between the fragments. This is a Schatzker II injury.
Tibial plateau fractures. Coronal reformatted CT. This image demonstrates a bicondylar fracture of the tibial plateau along with a fracture of the tibial diaphysis, a Schatzker VI fracture. Note the articular incongruity.
Classification of tibial tuberosity fractures.
 
 
 
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