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You might hear the sound of a crack to indicate that a bone has been broken, but bruising, swelling and pain, particularly when accompanied by faintness or dizziness can all be signs of a break or fracture to a bone in the leg.
A broken leg requires urgent medical attention so it is important to call an ambulance or get to the nearest A&E department as quickly as possible. Doctors will assess the degree of severity of the break or fracture and arrange appropriate leg support. Painkillers will be administered before X-rays are undertaken to determine the exact type of injury and arrange appropriate treatment.
A broken leg can range in severity from a mild fracture which causes cracks in the bone, to a compound fracture where the bone breaks through the surface of the skin. The simplest form of fracture will usually be treated by the application of a plaster cast or other rigid brace which holds the bones in the correct position whilst healing takes place.
Where the bones have become misaligned the medical practitioner will administer some form of sedative and either localised, regional or general anaesthetic in order to realign the broken leg. Once any initial swelling has disappeared a plaster cast or support brace is applied to keep the leg steady while the bone knits together. Depending on the severity of the break the healing period can take anything from six weeks to several months.
Where a broken leg involves a severe compound fracture surgery may be required to fasten the broken pieces together. Using a variety of equipment including metal pins, plates, wires, rods and screws, the surgeon realigns the pieces of the break and fastens them together. Sometimes it is necessary to use an external framework in order to facilitate the healing process. Although external metal braces are removed once healing is complete it is usual to leave internal metal fixings in place unless they cause a problem.
Since it is important to avoid weight bearing activity on the broken leg the hospital or clinic will provide crutches for support and offer advice on recommended recovery times. These will depend on the severity of the injury and the age and condition of the patient, but it is important not to try to put weight on the affected leg before being given the go-ahead by medical professionals.
Once a cast or brace has been fitted to the affected leg an appointment is made to attend the local fracture clinic. Specialist orthopaedic doctors monitor and assess the healing process, taking further X-rays if necessary to ascertain how well the bones are knitting together.
Physiotherapy exercises will be provided once a broken leg is on the mend, often beginning before the plaster cast or leg support is removed. Pain often disappears before healing is complete, so it is important to pay attention to instructions from the fracture clinic regarding weight-bearing exercise in order to avoid any further complications.