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A fracture or broken knee cap is a surprisingly common injury. The knee cap, or patella, acts as a shield in front of the ligaments, tendons and bony structures of the knee joint and is susceptible to damage. Most fractures and breaks are the result of an injury or fall, although it is also possible for a break to occur due to a sudden contraction of the quadriceps.
The first and most noticeable symptom of a patella fracture is extreme knee pain. There may be some faintness, dizziness and even sickness caused by the shock of the break, but this is not always apparent. The joint needs to be protected by some form of knee support before consulting a medical practitioner, who will usually perform an x-ray to confirm the diagnosis.
A patella fracture or break can be a simple hairline fracture, a complete break or even a complex break where the patella is shattered into several pieces. The type and severity of the fracture will determine the appropriate treatment. If the break is complex, it may require surgery.
Once the severity of the injury has been diagnosed, the usual course of action is to encase the knee in a plaster cast for around six weeks to allow healing to take place. More severe breaks will require surgical intervention so that the shattered knee cap can be held together with wire to enable healing. In extreme cases, the patella may need to be removed altogether to avoid further knee pain in the future.
The severity of the fracture or break will dictate the period of immobility of the leg. Once the initial healing has taken place, it is important to undergo physiotherapy in order to restore mobility and function to the injured leg. During this phase of treatment, a good-quality knee support can provide warmth and support and prevent further injuries from occurring. Some physiotherapists prefer to remove the plaster cast after two to three weeks and replace it with a knee support in the form of a dedicated knee brace. Knee pain can be controlled by over-the-counter painkillers.
Gentle exercise in water helps to improve mobility without placing undue strain or weight on the knee joint and can help to minimise the risk of further injuries. It is important to follow the physiotherapist’s instructions to avoid doing too much too soon, which could have an impact upon the healing process and could lead to arthritis in the knee in the future.
Even after healing is complete, many sufferers continue to experience knee pain for some time. Wearing a good-quality knee support or brace can provide additional support which helps to minimise the pain and provides a degree of security. Knee padding should always be worn to prevent patella damage when taking part in sports which carry a degree of risk of falling on to the knees.