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What Is a Patella Fracture?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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A patella fracture occurs when the patella, or kneecap, is cracked or broken. This usually occurs after a fall, though direct impacts with the kneecap can also cause a patella fracture. The treatment for such an injury will vary according to the severity of the damage, and many injuries to the patella can be treated non-surgically. The injured person will very likely need to wear a leg cast in this case, and the healing time can vary. If surgery is required, the healing time will be more prolonged and sometimes painful.

The patella is one of three bones that make up the knee joint, and its primary responsibility is knee stability. When a patella fracture occurs, the knee may become unstable, weakened, painful, or otherwise limited in its movement. To determine whether a patella fracture will require surgical attention, a doctor may ask a patient to do a straight leg raise, in which the patient raises the leg while lying down on his or her back. If he or she can do the lift, surgery is probably not necessary. If the patient cannot lift the leg, a doctor may do other tests to determine if surgery will be necessary.

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A patella fracture is often accompanied by swelling or a hematoma. A doctor may drain the hematoma to help the patient avoid excess pain, and swelling will be treated with the RICE treatment. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. These actions help reduce swelling and pain while increasing blood flow to the injury, which in turn promotes faster healing. The injured person will need to stay off the affected leg for a significant amount of time to allow the patella fracture to heal, and while healing times may vary according to the severity of the fracture and the overall health of the patient, an injured person can expect to be off the leg for several weeks to months.

A leg cast is often applied to the affected leg to immobilize the knee joint. If surgery is necessary, an incision will be made at the knee ant screws or plates may be inserted into the patella to repair it. The patella may also need to be realigned to allow for normal function of the joint. A fracture can displace the patella, leading to further pain and immobilization, which requires surgery to repair.

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