Tibia

Overview

What is the tibia?

The tibia is your shin bone. It’s the second longest bone in your body, and it’s an important part of your ability to stand and move. Your tibia also supports lots of important muscles, tendons, nerves and ligaments.

Because it’s so strong, it usually takes a severe trauma like a fall or car accident to break your tibia. If you do experience a fracture, you’ll likely need surgery to repair your bone and physical therapy to help you regain your strength and ability to move.

Your tibia, like all bones, can be affected by osteoporosis.

Function

What does the tibia do?

Your tibia has several important jobs, including:

  • Supporting the weight of your body when you stand and move.
  • Stabilizing you as you move.
  • Connecting muscles, tendons and ligaments in your knees and ankles to the rest of your body.

Anatomy

Where is the tibia located?

The tibia is the bigger of the two bones in your lower leg. The other is the fibula (calf bone). The tibia runs from just under your knee to your ankle. It’s closer to the inside of your body (medial) than the fibula.

Tibia vs. fibula

The tibia and fibula are the two bones that form your lower leg.

The tibia is longer and forms part of your knee at its top (proximal) end and your ankle at its lower (distal) end. The fibula is closer to the outside of your body (lateral) than the tibia.

The tibia is weight-bearing, which means it supports your body when you stand and move. The fibula doesn’t support as much weight and mostly provides structural support to your leg.

What does the tibia look like?

The tibia has a flat, shelf-like end where it forms part of your knee, a long middle shaft and a notch at the bottom where it forms your ankle.

Even though it’s one long bone, your tibia is made up of several parts. These include:

Tibia proximal aspect

The upper (proximal) end of your tibia forms the bottom of your knee joint. The proximal end (aspect) contains the:

  • Medial condyle.
  • Lateral condyle.
  • Intercondylar eminence.

Tibia shaft

The shaft is the long portion of the tibia that supports your weight and forms the structure of your shin. It’s shaped like a three-sided prism. The shaft of your tibia includes the:

  • Anterior border.
  • Posterior surface.
  • Soleal line.
  • Lateral border.

Tibia distal aspect

The lower (distal) end of your tibia forms the top of your ankle joint. It meets your fibula and calcaneus (ankle bone). It includes the:

  • Medial malleolus.
  • Fibular notch.

All of these parts and labels are usually more for your healthcare provider to use as they describe where you’re having pain or issues. If you ever break your tibia — called a tibial fracture — your provider might use some of these terms to describe where your bone was damaged.

How big is the tibia?

Your tibia is the second longest bone in your body. Only the femur (your thigh bone) is longer. Most tibias in an adult are around 15 inches long.

Conditions and Disorders

What are the common conditions and disorders that affect the tibia?

The most common issues that affect tibias are fractures, osteoporosis, Osgood-Schlatter disease and Paget’s disease of the bone.

Tibia fractures

A bone fracture is the medical term for breaking a bone. Because tibias are so strong, they’re usually only broken by serious injuries like car accidents, falls or other traumas. Symptoms of a fracture include:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Tenderness.
  • Inability to move your leg like you usually can.
  • Bruising or discoloration.
  • A deformity or bump that’s not usually on your body.

Go to the emergency room right away if you’ve experienced a trauma or think you have a fracture.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis weakens bones, making them more susceptible to sudden and unexpected fractures. Many people don’t know they have osteoporosis until after it causes them to break a bone. There usually aren’t obvious symptoms.

Women, people assigned female at birth and adults older than 50 have an increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Talk to your provider about a bone density screening that can catch osteoporosis before it causes a fracture.

Osgood-Schlatter disease

Osgood-Schlatter disease causes pain in your knee and upper shin when tendons pull against the top of your shinbone. It usually affects growing kids and teens. It’s sometimes called jumper’s knee. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling.
  • Tenderness.
  • Pain just below the kneecap.

Talk to your provider if your child experiences new pain in their knee.

Paget’s disease of the bone

Paget’s disease of the bone (osteitis deformans) is a chronic bone disorder. It causes your affected bones to constantly break down and regrow. It usually affects people older than 50 and people with Northern European ancestry. Symptoms include:

  • Bone or joint pain.
  • Larger head size.
  • Bowed arms or legs.
  • Curvature of the spine.
  • Bone fractures.

What tests are done on tibias?

The most common test done to check the health of your tibia is a bone density test. It’s sometimes called a DEXA or DXA scan. A bone density test measures how strong your bones are with low levels of X-rays. It’s a way to measure bone loss as you age.

If you’ve experienced a tibial fracture your provider or surgeon might need imaging tests, including:

What are common treatments for tibias?

Usually, your tibia won’t need treatment unless you’ve experienced a fracture or have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Tibia fracture treatment

How your fracture is treated depends on which type it is and what caused it. You’ll need some form of immobilization — like a splint or cast — and will probably need surgery to realign (set) your bone to its correct position and secure it in place so it can heal.

Osteoporosis treatment

Treatments for osteoporosis can include exercise, vitamin and mineral supplements and medications.

Exercise and taking supplements are usually all you’ll need to prevent osteoporosis. Your provider will help you develop a treatment plan that’s customized for you and your bone health.

Care

Keeping your tibia healthy

Following a good diet and exercise plan and seeing your healthcare provider for regular checkups will help you maintain your bone (and overall) health. If you’re older than 50 or have a family history of osteoporosis, talk to your provider about a bone density scan.

Follow these general safety tips to reduce your risk of an injury:

  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear the right protective equipment for all activities and sports.
  • Make sure your home and workspace are free from clutter that could trip you or others.
  • Always use the proper tools or equipment at home to reach things. Never stand on chairs, tables or countertops.
  • Follow a diet and exercise plan that will help you maintain good bone health.
  • Use your cane or walker if you have difficulty walking or have an increased risk for falls.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

You might usually only think about your tibia when you bang your shin into the edge of your coffee table. Whether or not it’s top of mind, the tibia is a huge part of your ability to stand and move throughout your day.

Talk to your provider about your osteoporosis risk. Anything you do to improve your overall health will also help keep your bones strong.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/06/2022.

References

  • Physiopedia. Tibia. (https://www.physio-pedia.com/Tibia?utm_source=physiopedia&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=ongoing_internal) Accessed 5/5/2022.
  • Radiopaedia. Tibia. (https://radiopaedia.org/articles/tibia?lang=us) Accessed 5/5/2022.
  • StatPearls. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Tibia. (https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/32574) Accessed 5/5/2022.
  • Teach Me Anatomy. The tibia. (https://teachmeanatomy.info/lower-limb/bones/tibia/) Accessed 5/5/2022.

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