Most femoral shaft fractures require surgery to heal. It is unusual for femoral shaft fractures to be treated without surgery. Very young children are sometimes treated with a cast.
Timing of surgery. Most femur fractures are fixed within 24 to 48 hours. On occasion, fixation will be delayed until other life-threatening injuries or unstable medical conditions are stabilized. To reduce the risk of infection, open fractures are treated with antibiotics as soon as you arrive at the hospital. The open wound, tissues, and bone will be cleaned during surgery.
For the time between initial emergency care and your surgery, your doctor may place your leg either in a long-leg splint or in traction. This is to keep your broken bones as aligned as possible and to maintain the length of your leg.
Skeletal traction is a pulley system of weights and counterweights that holds the broken pieces of bone together. It keeps your leg straight and often helps to relieve pain.
External fixation. In this type of operation, metal pins or screws are placed into the bone above and below the fracture site. The pins and screws are attached to a bar outside the skin. This device is a stabilizing frame that holds the bones in the proper position.
External fixation is usually a temporary treatment for femur fractures. Because they are easily applied, external fixators are often put on when a patient has multiple injuries and is not yet ready for a longer surgery to fix the fracture. An external fixator provides good, temporary stability until the patient is healthy enough for the final surgery. In some cases, an external fixator is left on until the femur is fully healed, but this is not common.
Intramedullary nailing. Currently, the method most surgeons use for treating femoral shaft fractures is intramedullary nailing. During this procedure, a specially designed metal rod is inserted into the canal of the femur. The rod passes across the fracture to keep it in position.
An intramedullary nail can be inserted into the canal either at the hip or the knee. Screws are placed above and below the fracture to hold the leg in correct alignment while the bone heals.
Intramedullary nails are usually made of titanium. They come in various lengths and diameters to fit most femur bones.
Plates and screws. During this operation, the bone fragments are first repositioned (reduced) into their normal alignment. They are held together with screws and metal plates attached to the outer surface of the bone.
Plates and screws are often used when intramedullary nailing may not be possible, such as for fractures that extend into either the hip or knee joints.