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Broken Leg

Broken Leg

Leg fractures (broken leg) differ depending on the location of the break, whether it is open or closed, its shape, and length of time it's been broken. The presence of any skin wounds is also important. Some chickens may require surgery, while others may only require bandaging/splinting and a period of rest and physical therapy. Any fractures which occur near a joint will usually result in decreased range of movement and normal leg function upon recovery.

Open fractures are more at risk of a secondary infection, resulting in osteomyelitis. If fractures are properly aligned correctly by an avian veterinarian early on this will reduce the chances of them healing improperly. Most fractures will heal within 2 to 3 weeks.

Treatment Options


Nonsurgical treatment methods include fracture stabilization (splint), rest, supportive care, and physical therapy.

Types of Splints
  • Figure-of-eight wing bandages: This method is best used for fractures of the elbow or carpal joint, or in small or very young chicks. It is important not to apply this bandage too tight.
  • Schroeder-Thomas Splint: This method is best used for fractures involving the tarsometatarsus (shank) and hock joint. It is developed from a wire or rod material, used to produce two right-angle bends next to the ring at the top of the splint, so that it runs parallel to the long axis of the leg.
  • Robert Jones Bandage: This method is best used for simple fractures involving the hock joint. It required heavily padded leg bandages that can be used with or without additional splinting material. Materials used for an external coaptation device various, however to be effective, it must be firm enough to provide support, and can include human orthopedic molds (orthoplast, hexcelite), wood applicator sticks, tongue depressors, aluminum rods, or similar such material.

Complications


Leg fractures that alter weight-bearing in one or both feet can predispose the chicken to developing bumblefoot and arthritis.

Clinical Signs

Lameness
Reluctance to move or stand
Pain on palpation
Swelling
Green discoloration

Diagnosis

  • History
  • Clinical signs
  • Physical exam
  • Radiographs

Treatment

NameSummary
Supportive careIsolate the bird from the flock and place in a safe, comfortable, warm location (your own chicken "intensive care unit") with easy access to water and food. Limit stress. Call your veterinarian.
Stabilization, rest and physical therapyMay be all that is needed only in very mild cases, however the only way to confirm this is to obtain radiographs by visiting your veterinarian.
SurgeryPerformed only by a veterinarian, and is recommended in most fracture cases in birds.
Rehabilitation/PhysiotherapyChicken wheelchair or sling

Prevention

  • Be gentle when handling chickens, and NEVER try to catch them by their legs when they are running.
  • Minimize risk of impact injuries
  • Don't allow chickens to go out in pastures with horses unsupervised, as even the tamest of horses can spook and accidentally step on them.
  • Be mindful of where chickens are relative to doorways, especially when wind is present.

Scientific References

Good Overviews

Risk Factors

  • Improper or rough handling by a human
  • Accidentally stepping on chickens
  • Kicked or stepped on by a horse
  • Trampled by other flock members due to scary event
  • Flying or running into a solid object
  • Getting caught in a portion of the enclosure and freaking out
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Actively laying adult hens are particularly vulnerable to leg fractures.

Case Stories