• Clinical science

Femoral shaft fracture


A femoral shaft fracture is a fracture anywhere along the shaft or diaphysis of the femur. These fractures commonly occur in young males as a result of high-impact injuries (e.g., motor vehicle accidents). Low-impact shaft fractures tend to occur in older patients with pre-existing osteopenia, who have fallen from a standing position. Femoral fractures typically present as a painfully swollen, tense thigh with restricted range of motion and signs of fracture (e.g., shortening). Diagnosis is based on clinical examination findings and visualization of the fracture on plain radiographs. Definitive treatment following splinting and traction is usually surgical but depends on the patient's condition. Vascular compromise and fat embolization are common complications. For fractures of the femoral head, neck, and trochanter, see article on hip fractures.


  • Age: bimodal distribution, based on exposure to causative force
    • High-energy trauma associated: common in younger population (< 25 years)
    • Low-energy trauma associated: common in older population (> 65 years)
  • Sex: >


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.


A fracture in the diaphysis (shaft) of the femur caused by:


Clinical features

  • Painfully swollen, tense thigh
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Signs of fracture (e.g., shortening, deformity)
  • Crepitus and distal neurovascular deficits could be present.

Beware of symptoms associated with fat emboli: change in mental status, dyspnea, hypoxia, petechiae, or fever!

Open fractures are almost always associated with multiple injuries!



  • Plain x-ray ; : see radiographic signs of fracture
  • CT and MRI if a tumor, infection, or other pathological process is suspected
  • Arteriography if vascular injury is suspected



  • Stabilization, analgesia, and open fracture management
  • Splinting and traction
  • Surgery (definitive treatment)
    • Intramedullary rod via an interlocking nail (antegrade nailing): treatment of choice
    • External fixation with conversion to intramedullary nail within 2–3 weeks




We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.