Blog: French gymnast suffers horrific leg injury in Rio

Blog: French gymnast suffers horrific leg injury in Rio

On the first day of the 2016 Rio Olympics, France gymnast Samir Ait Said was performing a complex vault when he landed awkwardly on the mat. His left leg literally “snapped” on impact – the sound of his bones breaking heard throughout the arena. He was taken immediately to the local hospital for emergency surgery.

Said sustained a “compound,” or open fracture of his left tibia and fibula bones. The tibia is the larger of the two bones in the lower leg and bears about 90 percent of our weight when walking or running. It’s triangular shaped with a thick outer lining of bone, or cortex. The fibula, is the smaller, thinner bone on the outside of the leg. Most of the time, the shafts of the tibia and fibula break together.

Source: USA Today

A tibia fracture is the most common of all the long bone fractures and can occur close to the knee joint (upper fracture), or close to the ankle joint (lower fracture). The location of the fracture, position of the bones and presence of a break in the skin at the fracture site determines the treatment.

When the bone comes out of the skin, this is called a compound or open fracture because the bones are exposed to the environment. Open fractures are a surgical emergency, and patients must have the fractures immediately cleaned and treated at a hospital to avoid risk of infection.

Treatment for fractures where the bone stays in place can be treated with a cast and take about eight to 16 weeks to heal. Poorly aligned bones require more invasive treatments such as rod, plates and screws to keep the bones in line while healing. In some very severe cases, full recovery may take a year or more.

One of the most famous injuries to the tibia occurred on a Monday Night Football Game in 1985. Washington Redskin’s quarterback Joe Thiesman was sacked by Lawrence Taylor during a flea-flicker play. When Taylor slammed Thiesman to the ground, his tibia bone “snapped,” which effectively ended his football career. Yet, with the advancements made in orthopedic medicine since then, had this injury happened today, there’s a good chance Thiesman could have returned to football.

Samir Aid Said underwent surgery Saturday night in Rio. A rod was placed from his knee to his ankle to stabilize the break. His recovery will no doubt be long and challenging, but the Olympian has said he’s optimistic about returning for the 2020 games. We wish him a full and speedy recovery.

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About the Author

Dr. Jeffrey Kazaglis
Dr. Jeffrey Kazaglis

Dr. Jeffrey Kazaglis is an orthopedic surgeon on staff at Elgin-based Advocate Sherman Hospital who completed 22 years of military service. Dr. Kazaglis specializes in general orthopedics, fracture care, hand surgery, sports medicine, joint reconstruction and arthroscopic surgery of the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow and wrist. He lectures extensively on knee and shoulder problems with a focus on sports injuries.