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Healing Time for a Broken Femur

written by: Dr. Sloan, MD. • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 2/28/2011

Broken femur healing times vary according to a patient's age, medical condition, the type of trauma, type of fracture, bone quality and the time medical intervention is being introduced. There are both modifiable and non-modifiable factors affecting the broken femur healing times.

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    Broken Femur Healing Times

    A broken bone or fracture is a medical condition characterized by a break in the continuity of the bone. The femur is one of the long bones of lower leg, important for bearing the body weight. A fracture happens as a result of trauma following the high force impact, stress or pathological fracture following a trivial injury as a result of certain medical conditions (osteoporosis, bone tumour or osteogenesis imperfect) that weaken the bones.

    In a case of a broken femur, the healing time is of great concern as it will determine when the patient can ambulate as usual without worrying about the complications of an incomplete healing process.

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    Factors Affecting the Healing Time for Fracture Femur

    There are multiple factors affecting the broken femur healing times. It is of paramount importance to know that some of the factors are within the patient’s control (modifiable factors) while others may not be modifiable at all. Only with the sound knowledge of these factors affecting the broken femur healing times, the patient can understand and accept the outcome of treatment better.

    • Age: It is not surprising to note that children tend to heal faster than the elderly. The duration for femur healing is much shorter as they have good healing capacity. Generally, children require one week for each year of their age to heal the broken bone, up to a maximum of 12 weeks.
    • Type of Fracture: In view of the larger surface area for the new bone to be laid down in comminuted fracture, it is expected that the healing process takes a shorter time as compared to transverse type of fracture for the same bone.
    • Extent of the Injury: If an injury does involve the surrounding soft tissues that provide support and nutrients to the bone, then healing process is impaired. The status of the blood supply to the broken femur must not be compromised to have an optimal healing. This explains the reason for delayed healing in displaced type of fracture which has disrupted the blood supply and surrounding soft tissues.
    • Bone Quality: Bone quality is a major concern, especially after menopause when osteoporosis often sets in. In addition, pre-existing medical conditions, like cancer or bone infection, are potential factors in weakening the structure of bone, hence delaying the healing time.
    • Early Medical Intervention: Early diagnosis and medical treatment brings a better outcome when proper conservative or surgical intervention being given followed by regular physiotherapy.
    • Smoking Habit: Cigarette smoking is associated with poor healing and increased complications after bone surgery. Fracture healing time is normally doubled among smokers. Generally, chronic smokers also have lower bone density than non-smokers.
    • Delayed Healing Due to Treatments for Other Conditions: Both chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer treatment may hamper the fracture healing.
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    Post-Treatment

    Scheduled follow-up is essential to monitor the healing process. Muscle rehabilitation is started once a bony union at the fracture site is completely formed. For stress fractures of the femur, bone healing usually takes up to six weeks before the patient is allowed to resume activities. A serious injury causing fracture of the femur bone would take a longer period to heal, roughly three to six months.

    A child with a femur fracture must be monitored carefully as limb length discrepancy between two legs can occur if the bone is not aligned properly.

    Diabetic and immune compromised patients with open fracture of femur are at higher risk of infection.

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    References:

    1) Complications of femur (thighbone) fracture-American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeon (AAOS)

    2) NSAIDs, coxibs, smoking, and bone- Smoking, fractures, and bone by Bandolier, Evidence Based Thinking About Health Care

    3) Femur Injuries and Fractures: Follow-up by Douglas F Aukerman, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, Penn State University

    4) Factors Affecting Fracture Healing by Dr Arun Pal Singh