The human leg can be divided into three main sections. The upper leg features the femur or thigh bone. Separating the upper half from the lower half of the leg is the patella or kneecap. Below the midpoint connector, there are two bones including the tibia and the fibula.
The tibia is also known as your shin bone and if you’ve ever played a sport of any kind, chances are you’ve hit the front bone of your lower leg at least once. Behind and to the lateral side of the tibia is the smaller fibula or calf bone.
The fibula is the thinnest of all of the long bones in the body, and luckily, it does not function in supporting your body weight. That’s a job for the more sturdy and thicker tibia.
Instead, the fibula functions in supporting the ankle as it forms the outer or lateral component of the joint. Its other main function is to provide anchorage and attachment to several key muscles of the leg including parts of the quadriceps of the thigh and hamstrings.
Fibula is Latin for clasp due to its striking resemblance of the clasp aspect of a simple machine used for fastening such as today’s safety pin.
It also works to provide added stability, force, and range of motion for other key muscles located both deep inside the leg including some muscle groups that work to move your ankle. With this fragile bone having so many key responsibilities, it is no wonder that a fracture of the fibula can be so debilitating.
Types of Fibula Fracture
The most common type of fibula fracture occurs at the ankle and is categorized as a fracture of the ankle.
A fracture to the outside of the ankle close to the area where the fibula and tibia meet.
A fracture in said area where the fibula and tibia meet.
A fracture of the fibula close to the connection between the fibula and tibia which usually results in associated tears of ligaments that support both the ankle and foot.
All of these most common fibula fractures occur in the ankle area, but it is also very possible to have a break in the part of the bone located closer to the knee.
These avulsion fractures of the head of the fibula often result in accompanying tears of the lateral collateral ligament or LCL. A fracture at this area of the bone and subsequent tear of the LCL can cause serious knee instability if not treated immediately.
Causes of A Fibula Fracture
Fractures to the fibula are most frequently associated with sports injuries. The most common action resulting in a fibula fracture is a rolling of the ankle during physical activity.
An awkward landing causing uneven weight distribution can also cause a break as the fibula receives a weight load meant for the sturdier tibia to handle.
Quick movements such as the stop and go nature of football can greatly enhance the risk of a rolled ankle or improper weight distribution.
Fracture damage to the top portion of the fibula closer to the ankle is more likely the result of a direct blow to the area or the byproduct of a significant collapse of the knee joint.
Symptoms of A Fibula Fracture
Pain, numbness, or tingling to any of the areas previously mentioned are the most common signs of a fibula fracture. If you are having trouble putting weight on the injured leg in question, that is another key sign that something is wrong that requires immediate medical attention.
Also, if you happen to see a bone protruded out where it usually doesn’t, that is a key sign that you need to see a doctor right away.
Directly after your injury, you should utilize the RICE method of injury treatment. This treatment does not require you to boil any grains to place on the area but is actually an acronym for four key steps to take to provide the injured bone with elements that can aid in reducing swelling and improving your overall prognosis.
The R in RICE stands for rest. Immediately make a concerted effort to take all weight off of the damaged area. Continuing to put weight on the fibula can cause further damage, making the subsequent treatment more difficult to accomplish.
Resting will allow your body’s healing processes to start to take effect without having to worry about the additional damage that it would have to divert attention to.
I stands for Ice and is a crucial step in the RICE method. Applying ice to the area helps to reduce swelling to the area, allowing for more blood circulation and more of your microscopic healing factors to enter the damaged area.
Using ice will also allow for more blood to stay in the damaged area instead of traveling elsewhere. The more blood flow you can get to the area, the better, and ice is a great tool to use to achieve this.
The C of RICE is for compression, which like ice, will help keep blood in the area and also reduce swelling. This can be utilized more regularly than ice, as too much of the frozen treatment can start to cause too much constriction to the neighboring blood vessels, resulting in damage.
While ice should be used incrementally, a soft compression sleeve to the area can be left on for much longer durations.
The fourth and final aspect of the RICE method of immediate injury treatment is E for elevation. Elevating the lower leg above the heart can drastically increase blood flow to the area, resulting in more and more of those white blood cells and chemical healers into the damaged bone.
Following this approach in concert with the previous three steps can greatly reduce swelling and provide your fibula with the best possible conditions prior to the professional treatment you will be receiving.
Once you arrive at the doctor’s office, he or she will physically examine the area of the presumed damage to look for any inconsistencies or deformities. Once this preliminary examination is complete, an X-ray or MRI will be conducted to confirm the fibula fracture.
Once a break in the fibula has been confirmed, treatment to the area will most likely require stabilization surgery to the area as the bone is so fragile to begin with. Plates and screws are generally added to a break near the kneecap to strengthen the area and also prevent potential future knee instability.
More common fractures of the lower fibula will often require a stabilization plate and bone graft to provide support to the ankle area. Those recovering from ankle surgery will be given a walking boot to increase stability and support of the incredibly sensitive area.
In both major areas of fibula fracture, physical therapy is often recommended post surgery and after the healing process has reached a point that the bone can now bear weight.
Regular physical therapy can help you regain as close to full range of motion as possible as well as strengthen the area to help prevent future injury. Damage to the fibula can also lead to possible problems with walking, so many of the exercises given to you by your physical therapist will key in on improving balance and a return to proper weight distribution.
Strengthening the surrounding muscles of the fibula is also likely to be enacted to help lessen the force that the previously damaged fibula will have to take on in the future.
Key Takeaways from a Fibula Fracture
The fibula is the smaller and thinner of the two lower leg bones. It plays pivotal roles in ankle stabilization and functionality, as well as providing key attachment areas for several of your leg muscles to anchor into. A fibula fracture occurs most commonly at its attachment to the ankle, but it is also possible to have damage to the end closer to the kneecap.
Regardless of the area of the damage, make sure you utilize the RICE method of injury treatment to ensure that you give your body and your doctor the best possible canvas to operate on. Damage to the fibula often requires surgery and the physical therapy that will likely follow will provide you with the tools necessary to make your fibula stronger than ever.