Should Your Child See a Doctor?

Leg Injury


  • Injuries to leg
  • Injuries to a bone, muscle, joint or ligament

Types of leg injuries

  • Fractures (broken bones)
  • Dislocations (bone out of joint)
  • Sprains - stretches and tears of ligaments
  • Strains - stretches and tears of muscles (e.g., pulled muscle)
  • Muscle overuse injuries from sports or exercise (e.g., shin splints of lower leg)
  • Muscle bruise from a direct blow (e.g., thigh muscles)
  • Bone bruise from a direct blow (e.g., hip)

Pain severity scale

  • MILD: doesn't interfere with normal activities
  • MODERATE: interferes with normal activities or awakens from sleep
  • SEVERE: excruciating pain, unable to do any normal activities, incapacitated by pain

When to Call Your Doctor for a Leg Injury

Call 911 now (your child may need an ambulance) if

  • Serious injury with multiple fractures
  • Major bleeding that can't be stopped

Call your doctor now (night or day) if

  • You think your child has a serious injury
  • Looks like a broken bone or dislocated joint
  • Large swelling
  • Skin beyond the injury is pale or blue
  • Skin is split open or gaping and may need stitches
  • Age under 1 year old
  • Bicycle spoke or washing machine wringer injury
  • Pain is SEVERE (and not improved after 2 hours of pain medicine)
  • Won't stand or walk
  • Has a limp when walking
  • Unable to move leg normally
  • Joint nearest the injury can't be moved fully (opened and closed)
  • Knee injury with a "snap" or "pop" felt at the time of impact

Call your doctor within 24 hours (between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.) if

  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Pain not improved after 3 days

Call your doctor during weekday office hours if

  • You have other questions or concerns
  • No tetanus shot in over 5 years for DIRTY cuts (over 10 years for CLEAN cuts)
  • Pain lasts over 2 weeks

Parent care at home if

  • Bruised muscle or bone from direct blow
  • Pain in muscle (probably from mild pulled muscle)
  • Pain around joint (probably from mild stretched ligament)

Home Care Advice for Minor Leg Injuries

  1. Treatment of Pulled Muscle, Bruised Muscle or Bruised Bone:  
    • Reassurance: Bruised muscles or bones can be treated at home.
    • Pain: For pain relief, give acetaminophen every 4 hours OR ibuprofen every 6 hours as needed. (See dosage table). Ibuprofen is more effective for this type of pain.
    • Local Cold: For bruises or swelling, apply a cold pack or ice bag wrapped in a wet cloth to the area for 20 minutes per hour. Repeat for 4 consecutive hours. (Reason: reduce the bleeding and pain.)
    • Local Heat: After 48 hours apply a warm wet washcloth or heating pad for 10 minutes three times per day to help absorb the blood.
    • Rest: Rest the injured part as much as possible for 48 hours.
  2. Treatment of Mild Sprains (Stretched Ligaments) of Ankle or Knee:  
    • First aid: immediate compression and ice to reduce bleeding, swelling, and pain.
    • 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.
    • Apply a cold pack or ice bag wrapped in a wet cloth to the area for 20 minutes per hour. Repeat for 4 consecutive hours.
    • Give acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) or ibuprofen for pain relief. Continue for at least 48 hours.
    • Keep injured ankle or knee elevated and at rest for 24 hours.
    • After 24 hours, allow any activity that doesn't cause pain.
  3. Expected Course: Pain and swelling usually peak on day 2 or 3. Swelling is usually gone by 7 days. Pain may take 2 weeks to completely resolve.
  4. Call Your Doctor If:  
    • Pain becomes severe
    • Pain is not improving after 3 days
    • Pain lasts over 2 weeks
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "When to Call Your Doctor" symptoms.


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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.

Copyright 1994-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.