Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a common complication after surgical treatment of fractures, which is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Identifying the risk factors for VTE is important for preventive strategies to reduce the incidence of VTE. Therefore, we conducted a meta-analysis to evaluate the incidence of VTE and the risk factors influencing the development of VTE in patients who underwent surgery for fractures below the hip. PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, SinoMed (Chinese BioMedical Literature Service System, China) and CNKI (National Knowledge Infrastructure, China) databases were systematically searched to identify cohort or case–control studies that investigated the incidence and risk factors for VTE following surgical treatment of fractures below the hip. VTE risk ratios (RRs) were pooled by use of a fixed-effect model or a random-effect model, depending on the heterogeneity among the included studies. Heterogeneity between the studies was assessed by I2 statistics. Twenty-three studies with a total of 191 294 patients who met the inclusion criteria were included in this meta-analysis. Our results demonstrated that age (≥60 years) (RR = 1·85, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1·34, 2·55; P = 0·000), previous VTE(RR = 5·25, 95% CI: 2·77, 9·96; P = 0·000), heart failure (RR = 1·74, 95% CI: 1·34, 2·27; P = 0·000), current smoking status (RR = 1·23, 95% CI: 1·07, 1·41; P = 0·004), hypertension (RR = 1·62, 95% CI: 1·27, 2·06; P = 0·000), hyperlipidaemia (RR = 2·16, 95% CI: 1·79, 2·62; P = 0·000), diabetes mellitus (RR = 1·46, 95% CI: 1·27, 1·68; P = 0·000), obesity (RR = 1·58, 95% CI: 1·35,·1·85; P = 0·000), multiple fractures (RR = 2·14, 95% CI: 1·00, 4·60; P = 0·050), varicose veins (RR = 3·07, 95% CI: 1·12, 8·47; P = 0·030), prolonged operation time (weighted mean differences (WMD) = 1·22, 95% CI: 0·63, 1·81; P = 0·000) and prolonged bed rest time (WMD = 3·12, 95% CI: 2·96, 3·29; P = 0·000) were associated with an increased risk of developing VTE. The other variables, including age (<60 years), previous smoking, immobility, pregnancy, cancer, open fractures and combination with trauma were not identified as significant risk factors for VTE. Almost all the risk factors mentioned above are in line with the known risk factors for VTE following surgery for fractures below the hip. Thus, surgeons should pay close attention to patients with these medical conditions in order to reduce the incidence of VTE following surgical treatment of fractures below the hip.