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A broken kneecap is one of the less likely knee injuries but can be incredibly painful and debilitating to those that do suffer from one. They are usually caused by the result of a direct blow to the knee, which can happen by falling forward, in a car accident or while playing sports such as football and rugby.

Types of kneecap fractures

There are three types of kneecap fractures:

  • Extra-articular or supracondylar, which is a fracture that stops before the knee joint line
  • Partial-articular or condylar, which is a fracture that reaches the knee joint line but still connects the condyles to the femur
  • Complete-articular or intercondylar, which is a fracture through the knee joint line that disconnects the condyles from the femur

Fractures can also be categorised as displaced or nondisplaced. Displaced fractures are where the fracture has caused bones to move out of alignment and are more difficult to treat while nondisplaced fractures are vertical fractures that keep the bones in line.

Symptoms of a fractured patella

There are many symptoms that present themselves when you fracture a kneecap, including:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Deformity in the knee or thigh
  • Loss of mobility

If the kneecap is completely fractured, you may be able to feel a gap.

X-ray of a patella fracture

Treatment

An X-ray will be carried out to determine the fracture pattern of the kneecap. A computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan will then be taken to reveal the extent of the damage. From this, a treatment plan can be put in place.

The type of treatment you receive will depend on what kind of fracture you have suffered. A nondisplaced fracture is easier to treat by applying a plaster cast for between six and 12 weeks with X-rays taken every 10 days to ensure healing is correct. While a displaced fracture is trickier as surgery is required first to fix an internal issue. The surgeon will use a plate and screws to secure the joint in place throughout the healing process.

How long will it take to recover?

For the six to 12 weeks you will be in a cast, you will be rendered immobile. Once the cast has been taken off, you will require a couple of weeks of physiotherapy to improve flexibility and return strength to the muscles in the leg. Most patients are usually fully recovered within six months.

To prevent reoccurrence, sport should not be resumed until the six-month recovery period is over and we would advise wearing a cushioned support, bandage or brace around the knee to keep it protected. With climbing stairs being a known irritant, our advice is to put weight on the heel rather than the front of the foot to ease the pressure put on the knee joint.

Although most people do make a full recovery, there are some complications which could arise later in life. For example, arthritis due to the cartilage damage and a weakness in the leg muscles due to being off your feet for a considerable amount of time.

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