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Broken Kneecap in Children: Care Instructions

Images of a normal and broken kneecaps

Your Care Instructions

The kneecap (patella) is a bone that protects the front of the knee joint. It takes the brunt of any blows to the knee, such as a fall onto the knee or hitting the knee against the dashboard. Symptoms of a broken kneecap (fracture) are swelling and pain, especially when moving the knee back and forth.

Your child may not need surgery if the fracture has not moved the kneecap out of position. But sometimes surgery is needed to move the pieces of the kneecap back where they belong and to repair damage. Whether or not your child has surgery, he or she probably will wear a cast or immobilizer on the leg for several weeks while the kneecap heals. Help your child wear and take care of the cast or immobilizer exactly as the doctor advises. Your child may need help with daily tasks.

Healthy habits can help your child heal. Give your child a variety of healthy foods. And don't smoke around him or her.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's 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 your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Follow the doctor's instructions for taking care of your child's cast or immobilizer, which is a protective brace that keeps the knee from moving. Do not remove it until your doctor says you can.
  • Prop up the sore leg on a pillow when you ice it or anytime your child sits or lies down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your child's heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your child's knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin. Be careful not to get the cast or immobilizer wet.
  • Do not use oils or lotions near your child's cast. If the skin becomes red or sore around the edge of the cast, you may pad the edges with a soft material, such as moleskin, or use tape to cover the edges.
  • Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.

When should you call for help?

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

  • Your child has chest pain, is short of breath, or coughs up blood.
  • Your child is very sleepy and you have trouble waking him or her.

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

  • Your child has new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child's foot is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • Your child has tingling, weakness, or numbness in his or her toes.
  • Your child's cast or splint feels too tight.
  • Your child has signs of a blood clot in his or her leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in his or her calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness or swelling in his or her leg.

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

  • Your child has a problem with his or her splint or cast.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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.