Femoral shaft fracture

Last updated: August 12, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

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 embolism are common complications. For fractures of the femoral head, neck, and trochanter, see article on hip fractures.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon

  • 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.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

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

Classificationtoggle arrow icon

Femoral shaft fractures are divided by the Winquist-Hansen classification, based on the degree of comminution. This includes the following categories:

  • Type 0: no comminution, simple transverse or oblique
  • Type I
    • Small butterfly fragment
    • Minimal to no comminution
  • Type II: butterfly fragment with at least 50% of the circumference of the cortices of the two major fragments intact
  • Type III: butterfly fragment with 50-100% of the circumference of the two major fragments comminuted
  • Type IV
    • Segmental comminution
    • All cortical contact is lost

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

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.


Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

Complicationstoggle arrow icon

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

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Femoral shaft fractures.!ut/p/a0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfGjzOKN_A0M3D2DDbz9_UMMDRyDXQ3dw9wMDAx8jfULsh0VAdAsNSU!/?BackMode=true&bone=Femur&contentUrl=%2Fsrg%2Fpopup%2Fevidence_sum%2F32%2F32-Evidence-Sum.jsp&popupStyle=diagnosis&segment=Shaft&soloState=true#JumpLabelNr1. Updated: December 28, 2016. Accessed: December 28, 2016.
  2. Siewert JR. Chirurgie. Springer Verlag (2006)

Icon of a lock3 free articles remaining

You have 3 free member-only articles left this month. Sign up and get unlimited access.
 Evidence-based content, created and peer-reviewed by physicians. Read the disclaimer