Broken Kneecap

Your kneecap bone (patella) is broken (fractured). This causes pain, swelling, and sometimes bruising. Depending on how severe the fracture is, it may take about 6 to 12 weeks or longer to heal. A knee brace (immobilizer), splint, or cast will be put on. More serious injuries need surgery to restore function and stabilize the knee. This is done by an orthopedic surgeon. This is a surgeon who specializes in treating bone, muscle, joint, and tendon problems.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • You will be given a splint, cast, or knee brace to keep your knee joint from moving. Unless you were told otherwise, use crutches or a walker. Don’t put weight on the injured leg until your healthcare provider tells you to do so. You can rent crutches or a walker at many drugstores and surgical or orthopedic supply stores.

  • Keep your leg raised (elevated) to reduce pain and swelling. When sleeping, put a pillow under the injured leg. When sitting, support the injured leg so it's above the level of your heart. This is very important during the first 2 days (48 hours).

  • Put an ice pack on the injured area. Do this for 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours the first day for pain relief. You can make an ice pack by putting ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a thin towel. As the ice melts, be careful that the cast, splint, or brace doesn’t get wet. You can place the ice pack directly over the splint, cast, or brace. Continue using the ice pack 3 to 4 times a day for the next 2 days. Then use the ice pack as needed to ease pain and swelling.

  • Keep the cast, splint, or brace completely dry at all times. Bathe with your cast, splint, or brace out of the water. Protect it with a large plastic bag, rubber-banded or taped at the top end. If a brace or fiberglass cast, splint, or brace gets wet, you can dry it with a hair dryer on the cool setting.

  • You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain unless another pain medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or digestive bleeding.

  • Your healthcare provider may tell you to do strengthening exercises once you can put weight on the injured leg. The exercises will limit bone and muscle loss.

  • You may need surgery if the bone is pulled too far apart or is displaced.

  • It’s very important to follow up with your provider. This is because a broken kneecap can cause long-term problems such as arthritis, chronic pain, and weakness.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider as advised. This is to make sure the bone is healing the way it should.

X-rays may be taken. You'll be told of any new findings that may affect your care.

When to get medical care

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • The plaster cast or splint becomes wet or soft

  • The cast or splint cracks

  • The fiberglass cast or splint stays wet for more than 24 hours

  • Knee pain or tightness under the brace, splint, or cast gets worse

  • Toes become swollen, cold, blue, numb, or tingly

  • You can’t move your toes, or your leg becomes weak

  • Skin around the cast, splint, or brace gets red or swollen

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