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Broken kneecap - aftercare

A broken kneecap occurs when the small round bone (patella) that sits over the front of your knee joint breaks. 

Sometimes when a kneecap break occurs, the patellar or quadriceps tendon can also tear. The patella and quadriceps tendon connects the big muscle in the front of your thigh to your knee joint.

What to Expect

If you do not need surgery:

  • You may have to only limit, not stop your activity if you have a very minor fracture.
  • More likely, your knee will be placed in a cast or removable brace for 4 - 6 weeks, and you will have to limit your activity.

Your health care provider will also treat any skin wounds you may have from your knee injury.

If you have a severe fracture, or if your tendon is torn, you may need surgery to repair or replace your kneecap.

Symptom Relief

Sit with your knee raised at least 4 times a day. This will help reduce swelling. 

Ice your knee. Make an ice pack by putting ice cubes in a plastic bag and wrapping a cloth around it.

  • For the first day of injury, apply the ice pack every hour for 10 - 15 minutes.
  • After the first day, ice the area every 3 - 4 hours for 2 or 3 days or until the pain goes away.

Pain medicines such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and others), or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn, and others) may help ease pain and swelling.

  • Be sure to take these only as directed. Carefully read the warnings on the label before you take them.
  • Talk with your health care provider before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.

Activity

If you have a removable splint, you will need to wear it at all times ,except for bathing or showering. 

  • Your health care provider may ask you not to place any weight on your injured leg for up to 1 week or longer. Please check with your health care provider how long you need to keep weight off your injured leg.
  • After that, you can begin placing weight on your leg, as long as it is not painful. You will need to use the splint on the knee. You may also need to use crutches or a cane for balance. 
  • When you are wearing your splint or cast, you can begin straight-leg raises and ankle range-of-motion exercises. 

After your splint or cast is removed, you will begin:

  • Knee range-of-motion exercises
  • Exercises to strengthen the muscles around your knee 

You may be able to return to work:

  • A week after your injury if your job involves mostly sitting
  • At least 12 weeks after your splint or cast is removed, if your job involves squatting or climbing 

Return to sports activities after your health care provider says it is okay. This usually takes a couple of months, if not half a year.

  • Begin with walking or freestyle swimming.
  • Add sports that require jumping or making sharp cuts last.
  • Do not do any sport or activity that increases pain.

Wound Care

If you have a bandage on your knee, keep it clean. Change it if it gets dirty. Use soap and water to keep your wound clean when your health care provider says you can. 

If you have stitches (sutures), they will be removed at around 2 weeks. Do not take baths, swim, or soak your knee in any way until your health care provider says it is okay.

Follow-up Care

You will need to see your health care provider every 2 - 3 weeks during your recovery. Your health care provider will check to see how your fracture is healing.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Increased swelling
  • Severe or increased pain
  • Changes in skin color around or below your knee
  • Signs of wound infection, such as redness, swelling, drainage that smells bad, or a fever

Alternate Names

Patella fracture

References

Patellar, tibial, and fibular fractures In: Eiff MP, Hatch R, eds. Eiff: Fracture Management for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia,Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 12.

Update Date: 8/15/2012

Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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