The femur is commonly called the thigh bone, and it is the longest bone in the human body. This bone connects with your hip at the top, and your knee at the bottom. While leg fractures are relatively uncommon, we do see more femur fracture injuries in car accidents due to the shear forces involved when two vehicles collide, or when one vehicle collides with an immovable object such as a building, tree, or electric pole. In accidents where the victim is unrestrained, leg fractures can occur from either the impact of the accident or being thrown from the vehicle and landing in such a way that the femur is broken. Falls from a significant height may also result in a fractured femur bone.
A femur fracture can affect three different areas of the bone itself: the head of the bone near the pelvis (often incorrectly called a broken hip or hip fracture), the long body or shaft of the bone, or the lower end of the bone near the knee. Often only one of these areas is affected, but in serious accidents, more than one part of the bone could be fractured, or the bone could be completely crushed.
Femur fractures can vary from those caused by severe stress on the bone where the break is relatively clean, to a crushing fracture where the bone, as well as the soft tissue around it, is pulverized. There are different levels of fracture from the almost undetectable stress fracture to the most obvious open fracture.
Stress fractures don’t need to be subjected to massive forces to occur. Often, an area of weakness within a bone that has been caused by diseases such osteoporosis can become susceptible to fractures due to repetitive stress and overuse. Some of these stress fractures are so small they can’t even be seen on a normal x-ray.
Regardless of how a femur fracture has happened, if the femur has fractured in such a way that the ends need to be placed back together, surgery is will be required to bring (and keep) the ends together. Eventually, new bone will form between the two ends, connecting them once again. This is accomplished using a variety of nails or screws and plates to keep the ends in place. In the past, treatment would consist of “setting” the bone (bringing the ends together), casting the leg, and hoping for the best. Oftentimes, this resulted in early-onset arthritis, joint stiffness, and mobility limitations.
Due to the volume of blood contained within the leg, a femur fracture has the potential to cause a significant loss of blood. Almost 40% of femur fractures require a transfusion of several units of blood. This can prove very dangerous, or at worst, fatal, especially in elderly victims.
Causes of Femur Fracture
Because of the strength of the femur bone, it takes an incredible amount of force to cause a fracture. Femur fractures are most commonly caused by car accidents and crashes, all-terrain vehicle accidents, motorcycle crashes, and other types of vehicle crashes. Falls from height are also a cause of femur fractures. As previously mentioned, if there is an underlying disease such as osteoporosis or cancer, those bones that are affected will be more likely to fracture also. And healing a femur fracture is no small feat; femur fractures can take up to six months to heal even when treated properly.
Risk Factors for Femur Fracture
There are certain factors that will put you more at risk for fracturing a femur bone. Some of these are external risks and some internal, some preventable, and others less so. They include:
- Metastatic cancer of any type;
- Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- Not wearing seat belts while inside a moving vehicle;
- Driving recklessly;
- Driving above the speed limit; and
- Engaging in contact sports, or extreme sports.
Symptoms of a Femur Fracture
If you feel you may have sustained a femur fracture, go immediately to the nearest emergency room or call 911 for medical transport. These fractures can be life-threatening when they are combined with blood loss or multi-system injuries.
Common fracture symptoms might include:
- Severe bruising along the thigh bone;
- Severe thigh pain;
- Thigh deformity;
- Inability to move or put pressure on the thigh;
- Muscle spasms;
- Numbness or tingling in the thigh or down into the foot; and
- Leg- or hip-area swelling.
Diagnosing a Fracture
Most significant femur fractures are easily seen on basic x-rays, and some are easily detectable by the naked eye. If the pathology around the bone is in question, an MRI or CT scan can be done to assess the fracture and surrounding tissues. When diagnosing a fracture, the physician will pay attention to the pulse and neurological activity present below the injury site (from the knee down). This is because a femur fracture can impinge or even rupture the femoral artery, which delivers blood to the distal leg. Femoral artery damage can result in less blood supply to the leg below the fracture. If there is numbness or tingling present, it could mean major nerve impingement.
Treatment of a Femur Fracture
In an emergency situation, the victim will be given stabilizing blood products and an IV if necessary. Traction will be used to immobilize the fracture and alleviate pain. If there is blood loss present, a pneumatic splint will be used to reduce blood flow to the damaged area by placing equalized pressure on the limb. Pain medication will be given directly through the IV until the victim is stabilized.
If the fracture is an open fracture, the victim will also be given antibiotics to prevent infection of the bone or blood, and a tetanus shot will be administered.
Nearly all femur fractures will be treated surgically using metal rods, plates, nails, and screws. Together, this hardware serves to keep the broken bone ends in place until they have the time to heal back together.
Complications of Femur Fractures
Complications accompanying a femur fracture can be life-threatening and include:
- Circulatory collapse;
- Severe blood loss;
- Nerve damage; and
- Circulatory damage.
Femur fractures are complicated and can be difficult to heal. If you’ve suffered a femur fracture due to a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you may be scared and wondering who is going to pay all the medical bills that are building up. If you’ve been injured in a car accident and need skilled, experienced, quality legal representation, contact the attorneys at The Sevey Law Firm for a free consultation. You can reach us by phone at (916) 788-7100 or on our website.