Patellar Fracture

What is Patellar Fracture

Patellar fracture is a break in the kneecap (patella). The patella is located on the front of the knee. A patellar fracture may make it difficult to walk.

What are the causes?

This condition may be caused by:

  • A fall or a hard, direct hit (blow) to the knee.
  • A very hard and strong bending of the knee.

What increases the risk?

The following factors make you more likely to experience a patellar fracture:

  • Playing contact sports or motor sports, especially sports that involve a lot of jumping.
  • Having bone abnormalities or diseases of the bone, such as osteoporosis or a bone tumor.
  • Having poor strength and flexibility.
  • Having metabolism disorders, hormone problems, or nutrition deficiencies and disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Tender and swollen knee.
  • Pain when moving the knee, especially when straightening it.
  • Difficulty walking or using the knee to support body weight (bearing weight).
  • Misshapen knee, as if a bone is out of place.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on:

  • Your symptoms and medical history.
  • A physical exam.
  • X-rays.

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition depends on the type of fracture that you have:

  • If your patella is still in the right position after the fracture and you can still straighten your leg, you may need to wear a splint or cast for 4–6 weeks.
  • If your patella is broken into multiple pieces but you are able to straighten your leg, you can usually be treated with a splint or cast for 4–6 weeks. In some cases, the patella may need to be removed before the cast is applied.
  • If you cannot straighten your leg after a patellar fracture, you will need to have surgery to hold the patella together until it heals. After surgery, a splint or cast will be applied for 4–6 weeks.
  • You may be prescribed medicine to help relieve pain or prevent infection.

Follow these instructions at home:

If you have a splint:

  • Wear the splint as told by your health care provider. Remove it only as told by your health care provider.
  • Loosen the splint if your toes tingle, become numb, or turn cold and blue.
  • Keep the splint clean.
  • If the splint is not waterproof:
    • Do not let it get wet.
    • Cover it with a watertight covering when you take a bath or a shower.

If you have a cast:

  • Do not stick anything inside the cast to scratch your skin. Doing that increases your risk of infection.
  • Check the skin around the cast every day. Tell your health care provider about any concerns.
  • You may put lotion on dry skin around the edges of the cast. Do not put lotion on the skin underneath the cast.
  • Keep the cast clean.
  • If the cast is not waterproof:
    • Do not let it get wet.
    • Cover it with a watertight covering when you take a bath or a shower.

Managing pain, stiffness, and swelling

  • If directed, put ice on the injured area:
    • If you have a removable splint, remove it as told by your health care provider.
    • Put ice in a plastic bag.
    • Place a towel between your skin and the bag or between your cast and the bag.
    • Leave the ice on for 20 minutes, 2–3 times a day.
  • Move your toes often to avoid stiffness and to lessen swelling.
  • Raise (elevate) the injured area above the level of your heart while you are sitting or lying down.

Medicines

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • If you were prescribed an antibiotic medicine, use it as told by your health care provider. Do not stop taking the antibiotic even if you start to feel better.

Activity

  • Return to your normal activities as told by your health care provider. Ask your health care provider what activities are safe for you.
  • Do exercises as told by your health care provider.
  • Ask your health care provider when it is safe to drive if you have a splint or cast on your leg.
  • Do not drive or use heavy machinery while taking prescription pain medicine.

General instructions

  • Do not use the injured limb to support your body weight until your health care provider says that you can. Use crutches as told by your health care provider.
  • Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes. These can delay bone healing. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have symptoms that get worse or do not get better after 2 weeks of treatment.
  • You have severe, persistent pain.

Get help right away if:

  • You have redness, swelling, or increasing pain in your knee.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have blue or gray skin below the fracture site or in the toes.
  • You have numbness or loss of feeling below the fracture site.