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The patella is a bone positioned in the front of the knee joint, where it acts as a protective "armor" — that's why it's more popularly known as a kneecap. You can feel your kneecaps when you place a hand over a knee, and its shape is something between round and triangular. Besides protecting the quadriceps and patellar tendons, your kneecaps also serve to increase the leverage of the quadriceps muscle.
How do patella fractures occur?
Kneecaps break for many reasons in many different ways, potentially causing anything from one simple fracture to a totally shattered patella. All parts of the kneecap can be affected.
Common ways in which patellar fractures happen include:
Road traffic accidents A more intense fall A direct hit to the kneecap, during sports, for instance An indirect injury that provokes a sudden contraction of the quadriceps muscle
Some of these circumstances go a long way towards explaining why patella fractures are a bit more frequently seen among men between the ages of 20 and 50, though anyone can break their kneecap.
Patella fracture: What are the symptoms?
A person with a patella fracture will first and foremost experience pain, and the knee will begin to swell too. The person will not be able to walk, to raise their leg, or to straighten it. If the fracture is hairline or undisplaced, the swelling may not be so strong, and the only symptom may be tenderness over the patella bone. In displaced fractures of the patella bone, blood will fill up the knee joint very quickly, so the swelling will be severe and arrive shortly after the fracture happened.
X-rays will help in making the diagnosis, as well as in understanding and recognizing the type of the fracture.
How are patella fractures treated?
The treatment of a broken kneecap will mostly depend on whether the fracture is displaced (meaning pieces of bone are in the wrong location) or undisplaced, and whether a person is or is not able to raise their leg.
A plaster cast from the ankle up to the groin area will probably be inevitable if a person can raise their leg and has undisplaced fracture. If a person who broke their kneecap cannot raise their leg, tension band wiring is used as a method of treatment.
In more serious cases, which are usually cases of displaced fractures, orthopedic surgery will have to be performed. Stainless steel wires or screws will have to be used to fix and straighten the fractured bone, and a partial or total patellectomy may be required. A total patellectomy, in which the kneecap is removed, is the most serious kind the treatment, and it is suggested only for the most serious patella fractures.
Fractured patella: Healing time
If your fractured patella was treated without surgery, you can expect your initial recovery time to take about four to six weeks. This is how long it usually takes the bone to heal, and you'll likely have a cast this entire time. That does not mean your kneecap will be fully functional when the cast comes off, however. Physical rehabilitation can start at this point, but it may take eight months or longer for you to make a full recovery.
If your fractured patella required surgery, you won't be able to move your leg for a few days. Though the fracture may have been more complicated, you will, however, be able to begin the physical rehab process much sooner — range of motion exercises, which are gentle, can start after around four days. Exercises to strengthen your legs can begin once you're safe to put weight on it again, usually after six weeks.
While your recovery time, and whether your kneecap will completely heal, depends on how severely fractured your patella was as well as on how well you do during rehab, the average healing time for a patella fracture is about eight weeks.

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