A knee fracture isn’t solely limited to the kneecap. It can also include broken bones or trauma in the joints that support the knees.
A patellar fracture is the most common form of knee fracture. It occurs in the small bones on the kneecap that connect the thigh bone and shinbone and protect the knee joints. A knee fracture, however, might also involve broken bones in the femur (thighbone) and tibia (shinbone).
Although women between the ages of 60 to 80 are more prone to patellar fracture due to age-related bone demineralization, a broken kneecap is more commonly seen among 10 to 19-year-old men due to accidents or injuries.
Broken bones can result from direct trauma, falls, accidents, and sports-related injuries. In other cases, weak bones resulting from underlying medical conditions like osteoporosis, bone infection or tumor can lead to fractures and breaks.
This is considered an orthopedic emergency. Emergency care is required in this case because of the extent of damage of the ligaments, muscles, and tissue.
Signs and Symptoms of Knee Fracture
The most obvious signs of a knee fracture include pain and bruising and swelling in the front of the knees, however, you might also experience:
- Pain and sensation running through the thigh or upper leg area, especially when doing weight-bearing exercises
- Tenderness in the knee joints
- Legs that appear either shorter or crooked
- Difficulty walking, standing with the legs straight, and extending the legs
- A snapping sound as you try to move your legs
- Intermittent loss of sensation in the foot
Knee fractures can either be stable, displaced or comminuted. Doctors will have to do a physical examination and X-ray to determine the type and severity of your fracture.
- If it’s stable, your bones remain aligned but separated by a few millimeters. This condition can be easily corrected with a cast. If necessary, you might need to use a knee brace to help support your knees for a few weeks following your injury.
- If it’s displaced, your bones are not aligned and might require surgery for correction, alongside a cast or a knee brace.
- If it’s comminuted, the knees become totally unstable because of shattered bones. This might need a kneecap replacement surgery and entails longer recovery time.
Knee fractures might also leave an open wound, with the bones sticking out of the skin. Emergency care is required in this case because of the extent of damage to the ligaments, muscles, and tissues. Open fractures also raise the risks of complications such as an infection.
How to Manage or Treat a Knee Fracture?
It’s possible to treat a knee fracture without surgery. Doctors might simply ask you to wear casts or braces for at least six weeks or use crutches and walkers after a few months to help with your mobility. Other tips to manage a knee fracture include:
- Slow Down. You need to stop certain activities until your body is strong enough to return to normal routines. Give your knee fracture time to heal so that there will be no complications.
- Follow-Up Visits. You have to follow-up on doctor visits for X-rays and further assessments. Only then will you know how slow or fast your knee fracture is healing.
- Cold Compress. In the first few days after the knee fracture, you might notice some swelling. Applying a cold pack to the area every three to four hours for at least 10 to 15 minutes should provide some relief.
- Pain Medication. Doctors might also prescribe pain medication like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. Discuss the option with your physician in case you are also taking medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, and other conditions that might not work well with the pain medication.
- Physical Therapy. Regardless if you’ve had surgery on your knee or not, you will be asked to enlist in physical therapy when the time is right so that you’ll recover the full use of your legs once the injury heals. Be diligent with this therapy and follow the exercise routines. Inform your therapist, however, if you feel pain or discomfort.
- Wound Care. If your knee fracture has wounds or stitches, the wound should be cleaned and the bandages have to be replaced daily.
The recovery time for a broken knee depends on several factors like your age, your general health, and the type of knee fracture. When your doctor finally allows you to do more activities when your knees are stronger, expect a slight weakness and unsteady balance in the beginning. Be conscious of your daily calcium, protein, and vitamin intake as well because this will help strengthen your body’s bones.