Most people believe that a fractured knee bone happens only in the kneecap. A knee fracture, however, can involve any bones in the joint, including the patella, tibial plateau, tibial tuberosity, tibial eminence, and femoral condyles. Fractured knees often result from trauma. The most common form of knee fracture is a patellar fracture. According to several studies, patellar and fractured tibia knee each account for about 1% of all fractures. A patellar fracture is common in active, older people. If you think you’re suffering from a broken kneecap, read on to learn the most effective treatment options to get you back on your feet.
What is a Fractured Kneecap?
The patella is a triangular bone located at the front of the knee, which acts like a shield and protects your knee joint. It is connected to several ligaments and tendons, including ones attached to the lower leg (tibia) and upper leg (femur) bones. The undersides of the patella and the ends of the femur are covered with a smooth substance known as articular cartilage, which helps the bones glide easily against each other as you move your legs.
A fractured kneecap is a crack or break in the kneecap (patella). The injury may be a slight crack in the bone. In severe cases, the bone is broken into many pieces or shattered. A patellar fracture is classified based on the separation of the bone fragments.
Types of Kneecap Fractures
Patellar fractures can occur at the center, top, or lower area of your bone. In some cases, the fracture happens in more than one part of the kneecap. The types of patellar fractures include:
The pieces of bone remain fully aligned and meet up correctly, or the broken ends are separated by only a millimeter or two. In a stable (non-displaced) fracture, the bones often stay in place during healing.
With an open fracture, the skin is broken and the bone is exposed. With this type of injury, osteomyelitis or soft tissue infection may occur. Open fractures often involve serious damage to the surrounding ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Recovery time is longer, and the risk of complications is increased. Immediate care is needed.
Causes and Risk Factors of a Fractured Knee
Common causes of kneecap fractures include:
- Direct Trauma: A fractured kneecap commonly results from a fall directly onto the knee, often during a car accident or while playing sports. A fractured knee caused by direct trauma usually results in serious damage to the overlying skin.
- Eccentric Contraction: A kneecap fracture may happen while your quadriceps muscles are contracting, but your knee joint is straightening. This is medically known as eccentric contraction. The kneecap can be fractured when the muscle pulls forcefully.
- Pathologic Fracture: This type of knee fracture is the result of a weak bone. Sometimes the kneecap is fractured because of a bone infection, a tumor, or osteoporosis.
Fractured Kneecap Symptoms
What does a fractured knee look like? You’ll certainly notice bruising and swelling. The signs of a fractured knee typically occur around the joint, but you may experience fractured knee symptoms in the thigh area, as well.
- Immediate, intense pain with weight-bearing activities
- Bruising and swelling around the front of the knee
- Trouble doing a straight-leg raise or extending the leg
- Difficulty walking
- A popping or snapping sound
- Occasional loss of feeling in the foot
- A deformed appearance—the leg looks crooked and shorter
Fractured Knee Diagnosis
Consult your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of the symptoms listed above. A thorough examination and accurate diagnosis are critical to creating the best treatment plan for your fractured knee.
Medical History and Physical Examination
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and your detailed medical history. After that, your doctor will examine your knee to test your sensation and muscle strength. You may be instructed to move your toes and report lack of sensation on different areas of your ankle and foot. If the fracture is displaced, the edges of the fractured bone will be felt through your skin. During the physical examination, your doctor will check for hemarthrosis, a condition in which the blood from your fractured knee collects inside the joint area, causing swelling and intense pain.
Fractured Knee X-ray
An X-ray shows clear images of dense structures, such as broken pieces of bone. Your doctor will order this imaging test from several different angles to diagnose your fracture. X-rays are also useful for identifying the presence of a fibula fracture, determining the involvement of the knee or ankle joint, and finding out whether there is displacement—a gap between broken bones.
Fractured Knee Treatment
Can you walk with a fractured kneecap? Sometimes you can. But never neglect the pain in your knees, even if you can still stand or walk. The sooner you start a fractured kneecap treatment program, the better. Listed here are the available treatment options to help you make a full recovery.
Fractured Knee Brace
A fractured knee brace is crucial to supporting your injured joint and preventing further damage. ( See Product )
If the fractured knee is not out of place, your doctor may recommend wearing a brace until the bone heals. Some simple kneecap fractures can be treated with a hinged knee brace, a bamboo knee support, or a compression knee sleeve.
Compression sleeves reduce swelling and improve circulation to encourage healing in the joint. ( See Product )
Knee sleeves offer compression to reduce swelling and improve circulation to promote healing. ( See Product )
A high-quality knee brace provides warmth and is ideal for pain relief. Even after recovery, you’ll likely want to continue wearing a knee brace while working out to prevent re-injury.
Another popular option for support and pain relief is a patella knee strap, which places mild pressure on the tendon below your kneecap to improve patellar tracking and relieve pain. Straps are adjustable and discreet, so you can wear them all day.
Knee straps relieve pain by targeting the patellar tendon, just below the kneecap. ( See Product )
If the bone fragments are displaced, surgical intervention is required—either full or partial patellectomy or open reduction-internal fixation surgery. Replacing the kneecap is necessary if the fracture is severe or if the tendon is torn. A patellar fracture in which the bone ends are not close together may not heal completely.
Correct timing is the key to a successful surgical treatment. Before undergoing the procedure, a doctor may suggest waiting until the abrasions have healed if the skin around your fractured kneecap has not been broken.
Fractured Knee Recovery Time
How long does a fractured knee take to heal? In most cases, knee fractures heal quickly. Depending on several factors, such as your general health and age, your doctor will decide when you may begin moving your knee to prevent stiffness.
To avoid serious problems later on, it’s important to abide by your doctor’s instructions for putting weight on your affected leg, whether your fractured knee is treated with surgery or not. Once you’re allowed to put weight on your healing knee, it’s normal to feel unsteady and weak. Communicate with your doctor to ensure the weakness is of a normal severity. Using a knee brace is the best way to reduce the impact of this joint weakness on your life.
If your job involves mostly sitting, you may be able to return to work a week after your injury. If your job involves climbing or extended walking, on the other hand, you may be able to return to work in about 12 weeks. Only return to sports after being cleared by your doctor, which typically takes 2 to 6 months.
Products that Help Reduce Fractured Knee
Preventing a Kneecap Fracture
The symptoms of a fractured kneecap typically subside long before your bones are strong enough to handle the strain of daily activities. Putting weight on your fractured knee too soon can impede the healing process.
During your recovery period, visit a medical professional every two to three weeks. Your doctor will confirm your kneecap fracture is healing correctly. After your kneecap is better, put in extra effort to strengthen the muscles around your knee to prevent re-injury.