Leg Injury  

This Care Guide Covers:

  • Injuries to the leg (hip to toes)
  • Injuries to a bone, muscle, joint or ligament
  • Muscle pain caused by too much exercise (overuse) is covered in Leg Pain

If not, see these topics
View First Aid Advice
  • for Bleeding:
  • for Suspected Fracture or Dislocation:

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Ankle Sprain
Ankle Sprain

First Aid - Splint for Ankle Injury
First Aid - Splint for Ankle Injury

First Aid - Bleeding Leg
First Aid - Bleeding Leg

First Aid - R.I.C.E.
First Aid - R.I.C.E.

First Aid - Cold Pack for Minor Leg Injury
First Aid - Cold Pack for Minor Leg Injury

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Major bleeding that can't be stopped. See FIRST AID.
  • Serious injury with many broken bones
  • Bone is sticking through the skin
  • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • You think your child has a serious injury
  • Looks like a broken bone
  • Looks like a dislocated joint
  • Large swelling
  • Skin is split open or gaping and may need stitches
  • Age under 1 year old
  • Bicycle spoke injury
  • Pain is SEVERE and not better 2 hours after taking pain medicine
  • Won't stand or walk
  • Has a limp when walking
  • Can't move hip, knee or ankle normally
  • Knee injury with a "snap" or "pop" felt at the time of impact
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
  • Very large bruise or swelling
  • Pain not better after 3 days
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Injury limits sports or school work
  • No tetanus shot in over 5 years for DIRTY cuts
  • No tetanus shot in over 10 years for CLEAN cuts
  • Pain lasts more than 2 weeks
Parent Care at Home If
  • Bruised muscle or bone from direct blow
  • Pain in muscle from minor pulled muscle
  • Pain around joint from minor stretched ligament
Causes & Health Information

Types of Leg Injuries

  • Fractures (broken bones)
  • Dislocations (bone out of joint)
  • Sprains - stretches and tears of ligaments. A sprained ankle is the most common ligament injury of the leg.  It’s usually caused by turning the ankle inward.  The main symptoms are pain and swelling of the outside of the ankle. 
  • Strains - stretches and tears of muscles (a pulled muscle)
  • Muscle overuse injuries from sports or exercise (such as shin splints of lower leg)
  • Muscle bruise from a direct blow (like thigh muscles)
  • Bone bruise from a direct blow (like on the hip)

Pain Scale

  • Mild: Your child feels pain and tells you about it. But, the pain does not keep your child from any normal activities. School, play and sleep are not changed.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps your child from doing some normal activities.  It may wake him or her up from sleep.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It keeps your child from doing all normal activities.
CARE ADVICE FOR MINOR LEG INJURIES

  1. What You Should Know:
    • During sports, muscles and bones get bruised.
    • Muscles get stretched.
    • These injuries can be treated at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Treatment of Pulled Muscle, Bruised Muscle or Bruised Bone:
    • Pain Medicine. To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table. Ibuprofen works better for this type of pain.
    • Cold Pack. For pain or swelling, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the sore muscles for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed. Reason: Helps with the pain and helps stop any bleeding. Caution: Avoid frostbite.
    • Heat Pack. If pain lasts over 2 days, put heat on the sore muscle. Use a heat pack, heating pad or warm wet washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed. Caution: Avoid burns. For stiffness all over, use a hot bath instead. Move the sore leg muscles under the warm water.
    • Rest. Rest the injured part as much as possible for 48 hours.
    • For pulled muscles, teach your youngster about stretching and strength training.
  3. Treatment of Mild Sprains (stretched ligaments) of Ankle or Knee:
    • First Aid: Apply ice now to reduce bleeding, swelling, and pain. Wrap with an elastic bandage.
    • Treat with R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) for the first 24 to 48 hours.
    • Apply compression with a snug, elastic bandage for 48 hours. Numbness, tingling, or increased pain means the bandage is too tight.
    • Cold Pack: For pain or swelling, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth. Put it on the ankle or knee for 20 minutes. Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed. Reason: Helps with the pain and helps stop any bleeding. Caution: Avoid frostbite.
    • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table. Continue for at least 48 hours.
    • Keep the injured ankle or knee elevated and at rest for 24 hours.
    • After 24 hours, allow any activity that doesn't cause pain.
  4. What to Expect:
    • Pain and swelling usually peak on day 2 or 3.
    • Most often, swelling is gone in 7 days.
    • Pain may take 2 weeks to fully go away.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Pain becomes severe
    • Pain is not better after 3 days
    • Pain lasts more than 2 weeks
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
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Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 9/1/2012

Last Revised: 1/14/2013

Content Set: Child Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.