What is a knee fracture?
A knee fracture is a break or crack in 1 or more of the bones in the knee joint. It may be just a bend or small crack in the bone, or the bone may break into pieces or shatter. Some fractures may stick out through the skin.
The bones in the knee include the upper leg bone (also called the thighbone or femur), the 2 lower leg bones (the tibia and the fibula), and the kneecap (patella).
What is the cause?
Knee fractures can happen in many ways, like falls, car accidents, sports activities, or direct hits to the knee.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
- Pain, swelling, bruising, or tenderness that happens right after the injury
- Pain when the injured area is touched or that keeps you from putting weight on the leg
- Trouble bending the knee
- Pain made worse by movement
- A grating feeling when the injured leg is moved and the broken bones grind against each other
- Muscle spasms
- A change in the shape of the leg
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how the injury happened. Your provider will examine you. Tests may include X-rays or other scans.
How it is treated?
The treatment depends on which bone or bones are broken and the type of fracture.
- If you have an open wound with the fracture, you may need treatment to control bleeding or prevent infection.
- Your healthcare provider will move the broken pieces of bone into the correct place. You will be given medicine first so this straightening is less painful.
- Sometimes surgery is needed to put the bones or pieces of bones back into the right position. Wires, pins, screws, plates, or rods may be used to hold pieces of bone together.
- Your provider may put your leg in a brace, splint, knee immobilizer, or cast to keep your knee from moving while it heals.
- If you have a cast, make sure the cast does not get wet. Cover the cast with plastic when you bathe. Avoid scratching the skin around the cast or poking things down between the cast and your skin. This could cause an infection.
- Your provider will tell you how much weight you can put on your leg, if any. Use crutches or a cane as directed by your healthcare provider.
With treatment, the fracture may take 4 to 6 weeks to heal. You may need to do special exercises to help your leg get stronger and more flexible. Ask your healthcare provider about this.
How can I take care of myself?
Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes.
To keep swelling down and help relieve pain:
- Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first day or two after the injury.
- When you sit or lie down, keep your leg up on pillows, with your knee straight.
- Take pain medicine as directed by your healthcare provider.
Ask your healthcare provider:
- How and when you will hear your test results
- How long it will take to recover
- What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
- How to take care of yourself at home
- What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
How can I help prevent a knee fracture?
Most knee fractures are caused by accidents that are not easy to prevent. However, here are some things that can help prevent injury:
- Wear shoes that fit well and give good support.
- Gently stretch before and after physical activity.
- If you play a sport that uses knee protection, be sure that the protective equipment fits properly.
- Work and play safely.
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This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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