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health

Vitals & Bits #14: The Fibula

So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell you right off the bat that the fibula isn’t exactly the most riveting body part. It’s pretty much just your average bone. And as fascinating as bone tissue is, there isn’t anything especially unique to the fibula itself that makes it any more or less fascinating that other bones. But, like people, not all body parts are destined to capture the imagination and adoration of the public. As such, I think it’s worthwhile to focus on the supporting players rather than the anatomical hotshots (like that damned fancy liver) every now and again.

The fibula is one of two long bones in your lower leg that connects the ankle area to knee area. It’s kind of a sidekick to the tibia, which is the larger of the two bones. You can feel your tibia on the front of your lower leg, in the area also known as the shin. The fibula runs parallel and just lateral to the tibia. (In anatomy, the term “lateral” means “moving away from the midline of the body”, i.e. the eye is lateral to the nose, the ear is lateral to the eye, etc. So the fibula is to the right of the tibia in the right leg, and to the left of the tibia in the left leg.) It’s covered by muscle and tissue, so it can’t be felt as easily as the tibia.

Like the tibia, the fibula is involved in the ankle joint and connects to the other bones of the ankle via ligaments. The bony bump you feel on the outside of your ankle, called the lateral malleolus, is the lower end of the fibula.

Unlike the tibia, the fibula is not directly involved in the knee joint.

This means that many injuries to the fibula occur at the level of the ankle. In fact, the majority of ankle fractures in older women involve the fibula.

Whether you’re young or old, male or female, Team Edward or Team Jacob, having a broken bone sucks. A broken ankle is particularly distressing, given that the whole walking and standing and weight-bearing nonsense we normally take for granted becomes extremely painful, if not impossible, for quite a long time. And “a long time” is no exaggeration: bones take forever to heal! This is because they don’t receive very much blood supply. Blood flow is crucial for delivering the nutrients that the body needs to heal itself, and although blood vessels snake in and out of your bones like ivy through a terrace, there just simply aren’t enough of them to make healing an efficient process. This is why bones require immobilization and activity restriction for a prolonged period of time to heal. Anyone who has been in a cast and crutches for six weeks knows how slowly those weeks crawl by.

Because of this, I hereby designate this day as “Help Out Someone with a Broken Ankle” Day. President Obama’s actually considering making this a federal holiday, in which our nation collectively commemorates important broken ankles throughout American history. So, though you probably rarely think about it, take a moment to lavish some attention on your fibula. Touch the bony lateral malleolus, hop on one foot, kick someone you dislike, and savor the feeling of an intact ankle. Coo to your legs about how they’re absolutely fibulous. Then march yourself over to the house of someone with a broken ankle and help them do laundry or make them breakfast or something. It’s OK to tease them about how they broke their ankle while guzzling Jim Beam and trolling around Central in a pair of stiletto heels. So long as you make their life a little easier, you’ll be making America proud.