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Why Is the Foot Swollen After a Leg Break?

Updated November 21, 2016

A swollen foot is common after a fracture to any of the bones in the leg. It is one of the symptoms patients wonder about after the initial trauma shock and treatment of a fracture. Just because it is common, it should not be ignored, and a worried patient should ask his physician's opinion. Swelling or oedema is one of the symptoms the doctor will be looking for in any post-fracture examination.

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A fracture to the femur, tibia, fibia or the ankle or foot bones causes major trauma to that area. But a patient might still be surprised that a break higher up in the leg causes the foot to swell. A simple explanation is gravity. This plays a part of the collection of fluid at the bottom of the area. If the patient is standing, even with the leg in plaster, fluid will collect at the lowest point.


Any break causes a significant amount of damage to the tissue in the surrounding area. Leakage from the tissues and small blood vessels will cause oedema. The body also naturally has an inflammatory response as a way of protecting itself after trauma. This is another reason for swelling. Some people who have not had trauma experience swelling, just after standing for long periods. This may indicate problems with the venous circulation. This is the blood supply going back to the heart.


The patient should elevate the leg, when lying or sitting, to be above the level of the heart. Stools and cushions should be used. The leg and foot should be supported. The doctor may advise that ice be applied to the area, or, alternatively, cold compresses might be used. The patient may be prescribed medication to control the pain and, in some cases, to reduce the swelling.

Other Signs

Some swelling after a fracture is normal, but other symptoms may need checking. Any actual leakage of cellular fluid from the area should be reported to the doctor. The patient should also see the doctor if there is any discolouration of the toes. It is normal in the case of swelling to have a reduced sensation in the area. But any significant loss of feeling should be checked out.

Time Frame

The swelling of the foot is likely to be most apparent in the time just after the break. However, some breaks take quite a while to mend, and swelling may also persist for a while. Some people even find that the swelling will recur in that foot after they have had a break. Standing for prolonged periods or strenuous exercise may cause the foot on the damaged leg to swell again.

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About the Author

Noreen Wainwright has been writing since 1997. Her work has appeared in "The Daily Telegraph," "The Guardian," "The Countryman" and "The Lady." She has a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences from Liverpool Polytechnic and a postgraduate law degree from Staffordshire University.

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