(Broken Kneecap; Fracture, Patella; Kneecap Fracture; Patellar Fracture)
Pronounced: pah-TEL-ah FRAK-choor
by Mary Cresse
This injury happens when there is a break in the patella. The patella is a large, movable bone at the front of the knee.
The patella is part of the knee joint. It is formed between the tendons that connect the thigh bone (femur) to the leg bone (tibia). It protects the front of the knee joint and acts as a point of support, providing increased power to the thigh muscles, which extend the knee. The inner portion of the patella does come in contact with the thigh bone part of the knee joint.
Some common causes of this injury include:
These factors increase your chance of developing a patella fracture:
Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.
If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to a patella fracture. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. She will also do a physical exam. The doctor will look closely at the knee to see if there are signs of fracture. Tests may include:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
After the tests, your doctor will determine whether you need surgery. If the patella is not badly injured, your doctor will place the knee in a cast. This cast may need to be worn for six weeks. After that, you will wear a knee brace and do physical therapy. You may need to use a cane or a crutch.
Your doctor may recommend pain medication to reduce pain and swelling.
If the patella is in pieces, then you will need surgery. There are two kinds of surgery that are commonly used to treat this injury:
After surgery, you will need to do physical therapy. This can involve range-of-motion exercises and stretching. You will slowly build strength in the injured leg. In some cases, another surgery will be needed to remove the pins and screws .
Depending on the injury, recovery can take weeks to several months.
To help reduce your chance of getting a patella fracture, take the following steps:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Physical Therapy Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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Last reviewed September 2012 by John C. Keel, MD