Patella Fractures


What is the patella? 

The patella (kneecap) is a triangular bone at the front of the knee. Though the kneecap is not needed for walking or bending your leg, it makes your muscles more efficient and absorbs much of the stress between the upper and lower portions of the leg. Climbing stairs and squatting can put up to seven times your normal body weight on the kneecap and the joint behind it.


What causes a patella fracture? 

Because the patella acts as a shield for your knee joint, it is vulnerable to fracture if you fall directly onto your knee or hit it against the dashboard in a vehicle collision. The kneecap can fracture in many ways: partially or completely, into a few or into many pieces. Sometimes when the kneecap is fractured, the ligaments or tendons attached to it can be sprained or torn.


What are the symptoms?

  • Sudden and severe knee pain
  • Difficulty extending the leg or doing a straight-leg raise
  • Pain with moving or walking
  • Swelling in the knee
  • A deformed appearance of the knee due to the fractured pieces
  • Warmth or redness in the area of the fracture
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness over the kneecap


How is a fractured kneecap diagnosed? 

X-rays, taken from several angles, are the best way to assess the extent of a patella fracture and to check for other injuries. If other injuries are suspected, an MRI or CT scan may be done.


How is a patella fracture treated? 

  • Nonsurgical – If the pieces of bone are not out of place (displaced), you may not need surgery. You may be placed in a splint or brace to keep your knee straight and help prevent motion in your leg. Depending upon your specific fracture, you may be allowed to bear weight on your leg while a brace. With some fractures, however, weight bearing is not allowed for 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Surgical – If the fracture pieces are displaced, you will most likely require surgery with an Open Reduction and Internal Fixation (ORIF) of the patella with tension band