The femur, the longest and strongest bone in the human body, is quite hard to break. Unless your bone has been weakened (most commonly the result of osteoporosis, medication side effects or cancer), it takes quite a lot of force to sustain a femur fracture. Since this bone is so strong, a femur fracture is not an injury associated with most athletes, as many other injuries are. Automobile crashes, not surprisingly, are the top cause of femur fractures. However, in children aged four and under, a fractured femur is considered a red flag for child abuse. The femur extends from the pelvis, which it articulates within a “ball-and-socket” joint, to the tibia (the shinbone).
Since femur fractures tend to be the result of severe traumas, such as those sustained in a car accident or in a fall from a great height, they are generally accompanied by other injuries. If the femur fracture is located at the femoral neck, femoral head or between the greater and lesser trochanter (points where the hip and thigh muscles attach to the bone) it may be considered a broken hip. This is especially the case if the person who has suffered the broken bone is also suffering from osteoporosis (a bone-weakening condition associated with older people, especially women).
The thigh contains the body’s longest bone — the femur, which articulates with the body’s most massive joint (the knee). This area of the body consists of the following:
- The femur (the thighbone; it is the longest, strongest bone in the human body)
- The hamstring muscles (on the rear of the thigh; they bend and extend the knee)
- The quadriceps muscles (on the front of the thigh; they bend and extend the knee)
- The adductor muscles (on the inside of the thigh; they draw the legs toward and away from each other)
A femur fracture is generally the result of an intense blow. If the femur is compromised for some reason, such a fracture can be caused by milder injuries. The following are the most common causes of femur fractures:
- Intense impact – In healthy people, it generally takes a car accident (being in a car during a collision or being hit by a car as a pedestrian) or other extremely traumatic incident — like falling from a great height or being shot with a gun — to break the femur, the body’s strongest bone.
- Falling – For older people, who may be suffering from osteoporosis and a body generally weakened by age, and for people whose bones have been weakened by medication and/or ailments such as cancer, simply falling down can be enough to suffer a femur fracture.
Different types of femur fractures have different symptoms. If you have suffered a proximal femur fracture, your will feel intense pain in your hip and groin, your leg will lose mobility and it will bruise, swell and stiffen. If you have suffered a femoral shaft fracture, your leg will be in intense pain; you will not be able to put weight on it; and there is a chance it will appear crooked and shorter than the non-injured leg. If you have suffered a supracondylar femur fracture, you will feel intense knee pain; your knee will swell and bruise; and the joint will lock and “pop.”
The following are common femur fracture symptoms:
The symptoms of femur fractures may be mistaken for the symptoms of other medical conditions (e.g., patella fracture or dislocated fibula head). Make sure you consult a doctor to determine if you have a femur fracture and get the appropriate treatment.
Femur fractures can be divided into three main types:
- Proximal femur fracture – A proximal femur fracture, which takes place above the lesser trochanter, is generally referred to as a hip fracture.
- Femoral shaft fracture – If the femur is broken between the proximal and distal (where it meets the knee) ends, then it is referred to as a femoral shaft fracture. This is a serious injury, generally associated with severe trauma, and in most cases necessitating surgery.
- Supracondylar femur fracture – A rare injury, a supracondylar femur fracture is a breakage of the thighbone immediately over the knee joint. This injury generally harms the knee’s cartilage. A patient who sustains significant cartilage damage will very likely develop arthritis as he/she ages.
The multidisciplinary team of trauma and fracture experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute treats femur fractures as well as a broad range of conditions that affect the bones.