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What is a fractured kneecap?

The kneecap, or patella, is the triangular bone at the front of the knee joint. A fracture of the kneecap refers to a break in this bone. Physiotherapy is essential following a fractured kneecap.

How does a fractured kneecap happen?

The kneecap is usually fractured by a direct blow to the front of the knee. It can also be fractured by a strong contraction of the quadriceps muscle on the front of your thigh.

Therapist performing soft tissue massage and mobilisations on the patella and surrounding connective tissue.Above: Therapist performing soft tissue massage and mobilisations on the patella and surrounding connective tissue.

What are the symptoms of a fractured kneecap?

Immediate and intense pain is felt over the front of the knee when the kneecap is fractured. This pain normally worsens with movement of the knee or contraction of the thigh muscle. If the fracture of the kneecap is complete and the pieces of bone have moved in relation to each other the front of the knee may look different. Swelling of the knee normally occurs within the first couple of hours after the injury. Additional symptoms may include:

What should I do if I have a fractured kneecap?

A fractured patella is a serious injury. If you suspect that you have a fractured patella then you should immediately travel to your local accident and emergency department or dial for an ambulance.

What shouldn’t I do if I have a fractured kneecap?

If you have fractured your knee cap it is very important that you do not bend your knee before you have been assessed in accident and emergency. Bending the knee could cause the pieces of broken bone to move in relation to each other. If the bones move it may mean that you require surgery to hold the pieces together whilst they heal.

Therapist performing knee assessmentAbove: Therapist performing knee assessment

Medical management of a fractured kneecap.

The treatment that you receive will depend on many factors. These include age, previous level of activity and general health. If the fracture is not complete or the pieces of bone have not moved in relation to each other then it may be appropriate to treat the fracture with immobilising the knee. This is done by immobilising the leg for six to eight weeks. If the pieces of bone have moved in relation to each other then surgery may be required to repair the fractured kneecap. If you were to have surgery to repair your kneecap then the type of surgery performed would be agreed between you and an orthopaedic surgeon. Following surgery your knee will then be immobilised to allow the fracture to heal.

Physiotherapy treatment following a fractured kneecap.

Physiotherapy is very important following a fractured kneecap. A physiotherapy assessment and treatment should be sought as soon as possible. Your orthopaedic surgeon will be able to advise you on when your fracture has healed sufficiently for physiotherapy to commence.

When the knee is immobilised it becomes stiff and the muscles surrounding it weaken. This can cause previously menial tasks, such as climbing stairs or going shopping, to become very difficult. It is not unusual to have to walk with crutches once the cast or brace is removed. Physiotherapy treatments can include:

Could there be any long-term effects from a fractured kneecap?

If treated appropriately, most fractures of the kneecap heal without complication. When the kneecap is fractured, structures around the kneecap or the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap may become damaged. If this cartilage is damaged it can increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis later in life. A delayed recovery may also occur if the broken ends of bone fail to join back together, this is known as non union.

To arrange a physiotherapy assessment call on 0330 088 7800 or book online.

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