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Tibial Plateau Fracture: Care Instructions

Bones of leg, including femur, patella, tibia, and fibula, with detail of broken tibia in tibial plateau fracture.


A tibial plateau fracture is a break of the shin bone (tibia) at the knee. The tibial plateau is the flat area at the top of the shin bone that the thigh bone (femur) rests on.

The break can range from a crack to a shattered bone. It depends on how much force caused it and how strong your bones are.

Treatment depends on how bad the break is and whether your knee was healthy to start with. Most people need surgery to join the pieces of bone together with plates and screws. Some people will need a joint replacement. If the break is minor, you may wear a hinged knee brace and use a walker or crutches for 8 to 12 weeks. It's important to start moving your knee as soon as you can after your injury or surgery. You may also have physiotherapy.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • Store your prescription pain medicines where no one else can get to them. When you are done using them, dispose of them quickly and safely. Your local pharmacy or hospital may have a drop-off site.
  • Do not put weight on your leg until your doctor tells you to. Use a walker or crutches to walk.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Prop up your leg on pillows when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Start moving your knee. As soon as your doctor says it's okay, straighten and bend your knee. Do it as often as you can. This can help you recover.
  • Do ankle pumps to help reduce swelling and stiffness. To do this exercise:
    • Lie or sit on your bed.
    • Point your toes and feet up toward your knees as far as you can. Then point them away from you as far as you can.
    • Switch between pointing your feet up and pointing them down.
    • Do this for 2 to 3 minutes, 2 to 3 times an hour.
  • Do exercises to help strengthen your quadriceps (thigh muscles).
    • While sitting in a chair, straighten your leg and hold for 6 seconds. Then lower your leg and rest for up to 10 seconds.
    • Repeat 8 to 12 times with each leg. Do this every day, up to 3 times a day.
    • When this thigh-strengthening exercise becomes easy, you can add a light weight to your ankle.
  • Do bed knee bends.
    • Lie or sit on your bed.
    • Bend your affected knee by sliding your foot toward you. Stop when your knee no longer bends.
    • Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds, and then slide your leg back down the bed.
    • Do this several times.
  • Take care of your brace or splint.
    • Follow the instructions your doctor gives you. If the brace or splint is removable, don't take it off unless your doctor tells you to.
    • Keep it dry.
    • Tape a sheet of plastic to cover it when you shower. Water under the device can make your skin itch and hurt.
    • Never cut your brace or stick anything down inside it to scratch an itch on your leg.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse pain.
  • Your foot is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your toes.
  • Your brace or splint feels too tight.
  • You have signs of a blood clot in your leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Swelling in the leg or groin.
    • A colour change on the leg or groin. The skin may be reddish or purplish, depending on your usual skin colour.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You have a problem with your splint or brace.
  • You do not get better as expected.
  • You have problems with medicine.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.