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Fibula Fractures

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Updated May 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

broken fibula fracture

A fracture of the tibia (larger bone) and fibula (smaller bone).

Photo © Jonathan Cluett, M.D.

A fibula fracture occurs when there is an injury to one of the two bones of the leg. The leg (the segment between the knee and ankle) is made up of two bones. The larger bone, the tibia, carries most of the body weight. The smaller bone, the fibula, is located on the outside of the leg.

Ankle Injuries

Fibula fractures typically occur as part of an ankle injury. Whenever a fibula fracture is found, the ankle should also be examined for possible injury.

Fracture of the Fibula Without Other Injury to the Ankle
Isolated fibular fractures, when the ankle joint is unaffected, often can be treated with simple protection. Known as a "lateral malleolus fracture," these injuries occur when the ankle twists or bends awkwardly, and the inner (medial) side of the ankle is unaffected. In these situations, a brace is sufficient to support the ankle. Crutches are often used for a few days or weeks to allow swelling and pain to subside. Once pain has lessened, patients begin rehabilitation to resume mobility exercises, strengthening and walking.

Fibula Fracture With Associated Ankle Injury
Fibula fractures that are associated with injury to inner side of the ankle, the medial malleolus or deltoid ligament, often require more aggressive treatment. In these situations, called "bimalleolar ankle fractures," surgery is usually necessary to stabilize the ankle joint. Without surgery, the ankle joint often heals in abnormal alignment, leading to the development of ankle arthritis.

Another type of injury that can occur with a fibular fracture is damage to the syndesmosis of the ankle. The syndesmosis is the group of ligaments that hold the two bones of the leg together, just above the ankle joint. When the syndesmosis is damaged at the ankle, an injury that can occur along with a fibula fracture, surgery is often required to restore the alignment of the bones.

Fibula Fractures with Tibial Shaft Fractures

Severe injuries resulting from car crashes, sports injuries, or falls may lead to an injury of both the tibia and the fibula above the ankle joint. These injuries, often referred to as "tib-fib" fractures, typically require surgery to support the alignment of the leg. When the tibia is surgically repaired, the fibula does not normally require a separate surgery to align this bone. In some tib-fib fractures, a long-leg cast (thigh to foot) will provide necessary support without requiring the surgery.

Stress Fractures of the Fibula

In some people, particularly long-distance runners or hikers, the fibula may be injured as a result of repetitive stress. This type of injury is known as a stress fracture. The pain of a stress fracture may begin gradually. Usually the pain worsens with increasing levels of activity and is relieved by rest.

What to Do When a Fibula Fracture Occurs

As described, the treatment of fibula fractures depends on a number of different factors including where the fracture is located and what other injuries have occurred in association with the fracture. While isolated fibula fractures usually heal quickly, more complex injuries may require further treatment. Therefore, it is of critical importance that a medical professional familiar with the treatment of fibula fractures evaluate your injury, and ensure that appropriate treatment is recommended.

Sources:

Fields KB, et al. "Fibular Fractures" UpToDate. Januray 2011.

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