Breaking a leg, figuratively, is what could get us through with life’s challenges, but it’s the last thing that a person suffering from leg injuries wants to hear.
While the thigh bone (femur) is the largest and strongest bone in your body, it’s not quite as adamantine as Bruce Willis’ fictional character, David Dunn, in the movie Unbreakable. The leg is made up of various structures—cartilage, muscles, tendons and ligaments—that allow us to stand, sit, walk, run, kick ass and all other stuff. If we irritate, damage or inflame any of these, it sure can break us, too.
Whether you can relate more with David Dunn or the frail villain Elijah Price, it helps to know more about the most common types of leg injuries and how to apply handy gel packs to facilitate faster healing.
Our leg anatomy
While the general population thinks the leg starts at the top of the thigh and ends at the ankle, the medical world refers to the leg as that of the lower leg region, specifically from the knee to the ankle.
To avoid being too technical about it, I’d go with popular knowledge for its definition:
Your legs, which run from your hip bones to your ankle and foot, are composed of bones, muscles and connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments and are responsible for a wide range of movements. They’re composed of five regions:
- Upper leg – Where your femur, or thigh bone, is located, as are muscles such as quads, hamstrings and adductors.
- Knee – Where your kneecap, or patella, is embedded in a joint capsule and protects your knee joint. Vital ligaments and tendons, as well as structures such as fluid-filled sacs called bursae, menisci and shock-absorbing cartilage, are found here.
- Lower leg – Houses your tibiae, the legs’ main weight-bearing bones, and fibulae, which sits next to the tibia and where some of your muscles, namely gastrocnemius, soleus, tibialis, plantaris and peroneus, are attached.
- Ankle – A joint connecting your leg to your foot, and it’s where essential ligament groups and other structures are located.
- Foot – A complex structure enough to require 26 bones, 30 joints and over 100 in muscles, tendons and ligaments that work harmoniously to maintain balance, strength and mobility.
Because our legs are both weight-bearing and movement-leading limbs, they’re susceptible to various injuries resulting from acute trauma, aging and overuse or too much stress.
7 most common types of leg injuries
Being that ligaments and tendons attach to your bones to facilitate movements and joint stability, leg injuries are most often related to problems with soft-tissues, such as sprains and strains. However, other kinds of injuries can cause leg problems, too.
A fracture refers to a broken bone, and the tibia is most often on the receiving end of this injury type. A fracture is typically caused by falls or a hard impact, although diseases that cause brittle bones may cause broken bones, too.
Fractures can either be a simple crack or a complete break in the bone. When the bone is broken but the skin is intact, it is called a simple fracture. The second type, a compound or open fracture, happens more conspicuously: you’ll have a broken bone sticking out of the skin.
When this happens, call a doctor or rush to the nearest hospital for emergency care and treatment.
The impact of falling or crashing into something may result in the bones being knocked out from the joint, and this is what transpires in a dislocation. Most dislocations are waiting to happen in the kneecap, shoulder, hip and knees.
(Over) stretching and tearing of the ligaments—the fibrous tissues that connect two bones in a joint—is what makes sprains really painful. Ankle sprains are the most prevalent case, especially among high impact sports players.
Like sprains, these are also stretches and tears, but they happen in your muscles instead of ligaments. Strains usually target the hamstring, a group of muscles in the back of our thigh. Athletes, runners and tennis players are more susceptible to pulled muscles. Lower back and neck muscles are likewise frequently exposed to muscle strains.
This is an injury to the connective tissues and muscles, usually from a direct blow or blunt force trauma. Falling and engaging in contact sports make one at a higher risk of getting muscle contusion, the other term for a bruised muscle.
This is not the typical purple or bluish discoloration you’re used to seeing when you have a bruise on the skin. A bone bruise is a traumatic injury to the bone that’s less serious than a bone fracture. Joint sprains and bone to bone grinding due to arthritis, may cause a bone to get bruised.
There are several types of skin injuries that result in a break in the skin or tissues, such as a puncture wound, laceration (or deep cuts), abrasion (or scratches and scrapes) and avulsion, which refers to skin and tissue tears.
How painful is a leg injury?
Every injury is different, and pain is relative. The main reason for its varying intensities may lie in the underlying cause of injury and the pain threshold of an individual, which vary greatly from one person to another. I’m actually quite surprised to know that women, who survive the miracle of childbirth, generally have lower pain threshold compared to men.
Doctors have a pain scale that is the basis in assessing their patient’s condition. For the general population, though, a pain scale may simply be:
- Mild, which allows most sufferers to still carry on with their normal activities.
- Moderate, which keeps one from doing a few or some specific activities, and one that may cause sleep disruptions.
- Severe pains are usually debilitating, and one that prevents an individual from performing basic tasks.
Leg injury symptoms
It’s easy to tell if one has an open fracture or a bone dislocation, but for other types of injuries, the signs may be subtle, excluding pain. Here are the common symptoms of an injured leg:
- For all types of injuries, pain may worsen with movement
- In a dislocation and a fracture, your leg will bend at odd angles, and you can’t stand or bear weight on the injured leg. There will be swelling, discoloration or bruising, too.
- For sprains and strains, there will be signs of inflammation such as swelling, bruising or redness and limited range of movement.
The list above is not exhaustive, so you may experience other kinds of discomfort not mentioned.
What happens in a leg injury?
After you hit or bump yourself, blood and fluids rush to the injured site in an attempt to protect it. Bleeding and bruising occur as your body tries to protect and heal itself.
Shortly thereafter, early signs of inflammation such as swelling, redness and warmth become obvious. At this stage, the body’s cells send pain signals to the brain and you may feel either a numbing or debilitating pain, depending on the type of injury you have.
The initial inflammation phase takes place four to six hours after the trauma, making it the best time to apply cold therapy or ice packs if you don’t have an open wound.
After a few days, your body releases chemicals that facilitate long-term healing from injuries. The process of injury recovery reaches another stage where scar tissues are formed.
Following that, your body should be trained to regain its former strength and function. Stretches, exercises and physical therapy are most useful at this stage.
How to heal a leg injury fast
Serious injuries such as an open fracture and dislocation need immediate medical attention. While waiting for assistance to arrive, a first aider (or you) would need to control the bleeding and to cover any wound, as well as immobilize the affected area.
For joint dislocations and other soft tissue injuries such as sprains and strains, the main self-care strategy is still the widely used rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) method.
How does ice help ease a leg injury?
Cold therapy works best when applied to an injured area within 48 hours. Icing your injury creates an analgesic effect by slowing down the receptors that send pain signals to the brain. Ice also constricts the blood vessels to reduce the bleeding and fluid retention. By keeping unwanted cells and debris to a minimum, cold therapy facilitates shorter recovery time.
How long should you use ice for leg injuries?
Expect the injured area to be painful and swollen within 24 to 48 hours. Ice or cold therapy and other complementary self-care methods should be used during this period to control the inflammation.
Each ice (and heat) application should last no more than 20 minutes, and can be repeated for at least four times in a day. On the third day, you may apply warm gel packs and alternate its use with cold packs to accelerate injury healing.
Chronic inflammation, or one that stretches for weeks on end, could be an indication of a more serious medical issue, so visit your doctor for proper diagnosis.
How often should you apply an ice pack to an injured leg?
Applying cold therapy to an injury is generally safe as long as you take the necessary precautions to avoid an ice burn or frostbite.
Go for at least four cooling sessions daily for the first two days at the onset of a leg injury. Put a thin cloth in between your skin and the pack, especially if you’re using a DIY ice pack. Do not place it on your skin for more than 20 minutes to prevent tissue damage. Allow yourself at least two hours of rest before re-applying.
Individuals with sensory and circulatory issues such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Raynaud’s syndrome, among others, are discouraged from practicing temperature therapy.
Reusable ice packs come in all shapes and sizes, some with built-in compression and sleeves. We find that applying cold therapy to an injured or painful leg is a challenge because most ice packs are made too small for leg injuries. This leg ice pack does the job perfectly and covers everything from your thigh, knees and shin.
This highly rated product stays flexible from the freezer and delivers long-lasting coolness that hugs your leg completely, providing immediate and absolute relief from leg injuries, post-surgery swelling and chronic pain.
When to see a doctor for your leg injuries
An open fracture, or one where the bone is exposed, warrants immediate medical attention. Accompanying symptoms such as popping sounds with every leg movement, loss of leg functions, fever and persistent or worsening leg pain and swelling merit immediate attention.
How about you? How do you deal with pain and swelling from leg and other types of injuries? Share your thoughts with us by hitting the comment button below.
Hi, I’m Steve Stretton, owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. If you have further questions about our cool products or need help about their uses, don’t hesitate and write to us here.