Recovery time for a broken leg varies widely depending on the severity and location of the break, as well as which leg bone (tibia, fibula, or femur) sustained the injury. Surgery may be required if the break is severe, with implantation of screws and bracing material to allow the bone to heal properly during the course of treatment. During the first stages of your recovery, monitor any incision sites closely during recovery, but know that this may be difficult if you have a substantial cast on your leg. For broken legs that require large casts, physicians recommend a passive approach: do not disturb your leg unnecessarily, as scratching can easily lead to infection given the warm, moist, dark environment under the cast. If there are other signs of infection, such as odor, visible redness, or a fever, inform your physician immediately.
After your physician has evaluated your progress, he or she may prescribe a regimen of physical therapy during your recovery. As with many other conditions, physical therapy for a broken leg focuses on regaining and maintaining mobility. Emphasis may be placed on building strength, balance, and flexibility in the leg muscles, particularly if the break was severe and required a full-leg cast and / or many weeks bearing little weight. During such healing, the leg muscles naturally atrophy (become smaller, weaker, and less capable of bearing the body’s weight), which can cause complications in your gait when the cast is removed. Physical therapy helps minimize distorted weight distribution by building strength and flexibility in your leg muscles to help you regain the ability to walk normally. During this process, your doctor will likely re-evaluate your progress several times to ensure that you are safe in pursuing your course of treatment. The intensity your physical therapy may be re-adjusted depending on how your healing has progressed.
Preventive measures can also help to reduce the chances of re-injury (or initial injury). A healthy diet, proper weight management, and regular exercise can help retain bone density as we age. This is especially important for avoiding stress fractures in the hip, leg, ankle, and foot. Maintaining muscle strength and tendon pliability through exercise will help to relieve pressure from your bones and joints and reduce the risk for future stress fractures. Avoiding smoking will also help considerably, as nicotine is a bone toxin that skews our body’s balance of osteoblasts (bone-generating cells) and osteoclasts (cells that consume old bone tissue). This means that bones gradually become less dense as old bone tissue is consumed but new bone cells are not generated as quickly.