A kneecap fracture is a break or crack in the kneecap (patella). It may be just a small crack in the bone, or the bone may break into pieces or shatter. Some fractures may stick out through the skin.
A kneecap fracture is also called a patellar fracture.
What is the cause?
A broken kneecap usually results from a fall onto your knee or a direct hit to the knee. Some kneecap fractures can happen when you are jumping or running.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
A snapping or popping sound at the time of the injury
Pain, swelling, bruising, or tenderness that happens right after the injury
Trouble walking or straightening your 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 is it treated?
The treatment depends on the type of fracture.
If you have an open wound with the fracture, you may need treatment to control bleeding or prevent infection.
You may need surgery to:
Remove all small fragments of bone
Wire the kneecap fragments together, if possible
Remove the kneecap if it has shattered
Your provider may put your leg in a brace, splint, knee immobilizer, or cast to keep your knee from moving while it heals.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe pain medicine.
With treatment, the fracture may take 6 to 8 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 kneecap fracture?
Most broken kneecaps 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.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2013-08-05 Last reviewed: 2013-07-19
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.
Kneecap (Patellar) Fracture: References
DeLee, Jesse C., David Drez, and Mark D. Miller, Saunders. Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice; 3rd ed, 2009.
Greene, Walter B., M.D., and Griffin, Letha Y. (Ed), Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed. Amer Academy of Orthopaedic. 2010.
Kisner, Carol, and Lynn Colby, Therapeutic Exercise: Foundations and Techniques, F. A. Davis Company; 6th ed, 2012.
Oâ€™Connor, F., et al. ACSMâ€™s Sports Medicine: A Comprehensive Review. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2012.