Leg Injuries

Leg injures are common and can affect the upper (thigh) or lower (shin) leg. Leg injuries can occur to any part of the leg including skin, muscles, or the bones themselves. Hip, knee and ankle injures involve a joint and may be treated differently. So it’s no surprise that at Henry Ford, our board-certified sports medicine physicians, orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists treat hundreds of athletes for leg pain every year. When you visit us for treatment, you’ll receive reliable, personalized care designed to get you back in the game as quickly as possible — whether you’re a Detroit Lion or aspiring to be one.

Common leg injuries

  • Leg fractures

    Your leg is comprised of three main bones the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone) and fibula (located next to the tibia). The femur is the largest bone in the body, and it takes a great deal of force to break it. A thigh or shin bone break is usually alarming as you cannot put any weight on the leg and it may be bent. Surgery is often required to repair a leg fracture, but the type and duration varies widely depending on the severity of the injury. A special case is a stress fracture of the shin bone which can sometimes be treated without surgery.

    Symptoms

    • Extreme pain
    • Loss of sensation
    • Bruising
    • Swelling
    • Obvious deformity

    Average recovery time

    Varies depending on severity.

  • Shin splints

    A common injury among runners, shin splints occur when the muscles and tendons around your shinbone (tibia) become inflamed, often due to over-exertion or sudden change in activity. In most cases, shin splints can be treated by simply resting the legs, stretching properly or reducing the intensity of exercise for a period of time. Supportive shoes or insoles can also help reduce symptoms.

    Symptoms

    • Pain along the inner edge of the shinbone, either during or after exercise or both

    Average recovery time

    A few days to a few weeks.

  • Pulled quadriceps, hamstring, or calf (gastroc/soleus)

    A pulled muscle is an injury in which one or more of the muscles at the front of the thigh (quadriceps), back of the thigh (hamstring), or back of leg (calf) has been strained. Muscle strains are graded on a scale of 1-3. Grade 1 involves a mild pull or muscle strain (walking is still possible). Grade 2 involves a partial muscle tear, often causing the patient to limp. Grade 3 involves a complete muscle tear and the patient will not usually be able to walk.

    Symptoms

    • Mild to severe pain in the front or back of the thigh or back of the calf
    • Difficulty walking
    • Bruising. The more severe the bruising, the worse the injury.

    Average recovery time

    Varies depending on severity.

  • Compartment syndrome

    Compartment syndrome occurs when pressure builds up in the muscles and restricts blood flow to the muscle and nerve cells in a part of the body. This can happen either suddenly as a result of a major injury (broken bone or crush injury) or over time (chronic). In the leg, compartment syndrome occurs most often in the front compartment of the lower leg. It very rarely happens in the thigh, front or back.

    Symptoms

    • Tightness
    • Numbness
    • Muscle bulging
    • Pain (especially when the muscle within the compartment is stretched)

    Average recovery time

    For acute compartment syndrome, surgery is likely required and healing will take several days. For chronic compartment syndrome, symptoms may be alleviated anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

  • IT (Iliotibial) band syndrome

    Common among runners and cyclists, IT band syndrome is an overuse injury in which the IT band — a long tendon that runs down the outside of the thigh to the top of the knee — is tight or inflamed. The condition is caused by the IT band rubbing against the bone at the hip or knee. Most of the time, pain can be alleviated by resting the leg, reducing the intensity of a workout and/or stretching the IT band properly.

    Symptoms

    • Pain
    • Warmth or redness on the outside of the knee (without swelling)
    • A click or pop on the outside of the knee

    Average recovery time

    A few weeks to a few months.

When to see a doctor

When you are first injured, the Henry Ford sports medicine team recommends the RICE method, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. If you think you have a severe injury or if your leg pain persist after a few days, contact a doctor immediately.

Reasons to see a doctor for a leg injury include:

  • Redness not going away
  • Worsening bruising
  • Tenderness in a specific area
  • Trouble walking
  • Cannot put any weight on the injured leg

Request an appointment with an orthopedic specialist

How we treat leg injuries

When you come to Henry Ford with a leg injury, a sports medicine physician will begin by performing a complete physical exam and going over your medical history. If necessary, we’ll arrange an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to make an accurate diagnosis. After a diagnosis has been made, we’ll design a custom treatment plan that may involve physical therapy or — as a last resort — surgery.

Treatment options

  • Non-Surgical Treatment

    R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) — When a leg injury first occurs, patients should rest the affected area to prevent further injury from occurring; ice it to reduce pain; compress it to reduce swelling; and elevate the injured leg above the heart to also reduce pain, swelling and recovery time. RICE is used right after the injury, usually for three to five days.

    Physical Therapy — Many leg injuries can be treated with physical therapy once swelling and bruising have improved, either on its own or in conjunction with surgery. For recovering patients, Henry Ford’s rehabilitation team takes a multidisciplinary approach, combining exercise and strength training with manual therapy at more than 20 outpatient facilities across southeast and south central Michigan.

    Anti-inflammatory medication — Over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol, Advil, Motrin and Alleve can often help reduce leg pain from minor sprains and aid in initial recovery.
    *Non-surgical treatment is used for most leg injuries like bruises, muscle strains (pulls) and tears. Most overuse injuries like tendonitis (tendon inflammation) are treated without surgery.

  • Surgical Treatment

    Tendon Repair -- Tendons may become torn or detached from a bone. Torn tendons usually happen close to a joint like hamstring/quadriceps/patellar tendon tears. The need for surgery is usually due to the amount of tendon torn.

    Compartment Release -- Muscles are surrounded by tissue to hold them in place called fascia. Sometimes the muscles can become so swollen the fascia prevents blood from entering the muscle. The fascia has to be cut to prevent permanent muscle damage.

    Stress Fracture Surgery — In sports, stress fractures are common in the leg, particularly in the tibia (shin bone) and fibula (located next to the tibia). To heal a stress fracture, surgery may be required that involves metal plates, screws or rods.

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