How to rehabilitate a broken femur

Written by kimberley jace
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The femur is the strongest bone in the body, so it's not easy to break. But a car accident or a fall can do it--and so can the repetitive stress of certain kinds of sports. Fixing the break will require the help of a surgeon. Getting back to normal will involve caution, exercise and patience.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Crutches or walker
  • Cane
  • Microwavable hot packs
  • Therapeutic cold packs
  • Elastic exercise band
  • Pillows

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  1. 1

    Listen to your doctor. He'll tell you what kind of surgery will be required to set and stabilise the bone and how much weight you'll be allowed to put on that leg as you recover. Following his orders will greatly increase your chance for a full recovery.

  2. 2

    Get walking. Most patients are encouraged to walk within 24 hours of femur surgery, provided the injury was successfully stabilised. Use the walker or crutches the hospital recommends and put only as much weight on that leg as the doctor allows. Remember, standing still on both legs means your injured femur is holding 50 per cent of your weight.

  3. 3

    Stretch and exercise. You'll be given physiotherapy exercises to return the leg with the broken femur to the full range of motion and to rebuild the muscles, which will be weak from surgery and inactivity. While lying in bed, gently test the limits of the injured leg by flexing your foot and your knee. While resting, try to have your injured leg stretched out straight, to prevent the hamstring from shortening, and slightly elevated on pillows, to help reduce swelling of your knee and ankle.

  4. 4

    Heat and cool it. Microwaveable hot packs and therapeutic cold packs (ice or frozen vegetables in a zip-closed bag will work in a pinch) can help soothe the muscle aches and swelling in the area of your broken femur. Use the temperature that gives you the most relief. To reduce swelling, alternate hot and cold in 20-minute intervals. Try hot/cold combinations, such as hot packs warming the inside of your leg and a cold pack wrapped around your ankle.

  5. 5

    Rebuild your strength. When the doctor says your X-rays show sufficient healing, you'll want to begin a real exercise program, but ease the injured leg back into action. Use a cane to take some weight off the leg as you walk. Use an elastic exercise band, as instructed by your physical therapist, to provide more resistance when you stretch. Walking in waist-high water is a gentle and thorough strength-building exercise for broken femur rehabilitation.

  6. 6

    Be patient. Wait until your doctor says it's safe before returning to your former activities or sports. Repairing a broken femur is major surgery, and many patients require months of limited activity and physiotherapy before they're back to normal. Don't risk permanent damage by trying to do too much too soon.

Tips and warnings

  • Resale stores, especially those associated with hospitals, are a great source for inexpensive assistive walking devices such as crutches. Many will let you "trade up" so you can exchange your walker for crutches and your crutches for a cane, as you heal.
  • Take advantage of any store's scooters and wheelchairs when you shop.
  • Ask your doctor for a temporary handicapped parking permit.
  • Try sleeping in a recliner if you're unable to get the right leg elevation in bed.
  • Listen to your doctor and physical therapist! This article is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.
  • Don't drive until your doctor says you have fully healed, especially with a broken right femur; your reaction time might be slow for a while.
  • Don't carry groceries or anything heavy until you are fully healed. The femurs support the full weight of your body plus anything you're carrying.

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