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What Are the Signs of a Broken Kneecap?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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The kneecap, medically known as the patella, is a triangular-shaped bone located on the front of the knee. A broken kneecap can be extremely painful and may make normal movements such as walking quite challenging. Some signs of a broken kneecap may include pain, swelling, and difficulty when trying to extend the knee. Diagnostic tests such as x-rays may be performed to confirm the diagnosis of a broken kneecap. Treatment for this type of injury usually requires surgical intervention.

Most broken kneecaps occur as the result of falling directly on the kneecap. Traumatic injuries, including car accidents or intentional acts of violence, may also cause this type of injury. In some cases, if a muscle around the knee is pulled out of place, a broken kneecap may occur. If other symptoms occur following experiences such as these, the kneecap may be broken.

Pain is the most common sign that a person may have a broken kneecap. This pain is usually sudden and intense and typically begins at the time of the injury. This pain may be so severe that the patient cannot move without assistance. The pain may intensify when someone presses on the knee or if the patient attempts to move the knee in any direction.

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Swelling and difficulty extending the knee are other common signs of a broken kneecap. Swelling can be minor, although the knee is more likely to swell up to several times its normal size. The patient may not be able to extend the leg or raise the leg if the kneecap is broken.

If a broken kneecap is suspected, the patient should obtain medical attention as soon as possible. An x-ray may be performed to confirm that the kneecap is broken. Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, surgery will usually be scheduled to repair the damaged kneecap. Metal wires, screws, or pins may be used to reattach the broken pieces of the kneecap to each other. Any bone fragments that are too small to be reattached will be removed during the procedure.

If the bones fragments are too shattered to repair, the surgeon may remove all or part of the kneecap. The patient will regain the ability to extend the leg after this type of surgery. Unfortunately, the leg is not usually able to extend as far as it was before the injury, although there are typically very few long-term problems following this procedure, especially if the patient becomes involved in a physical therapy program.

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