Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Broken Kneecap: Care Instructions

Main Content

Broken Kneecap: Care Instructions

Images of a normal and broken kneecaps


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

You may not need surgery if the fracture has not moved your 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 you have surgery, you probably will wear a cast or brace (immobilizer) on your leg for several weeks while the kneecap heals. Wear and take care of the cast or immobilizer exactly as your doctor advises. You may need help with daily tasks.

You heal best when you take good care of yourself. Eat a variety of healthy foods, and don't smoke.

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?

  • Follow your doctor's instructions for taking care of your cast or immobilizer, which is a protective brace that keeps your knee from moving. Do not remove it until your doctor says you can.
  • 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) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Be careful not to get the cast or immobilizer wet.
  • Prop up the sore leg on a pillow when you ice it or anytime you sit or lie down during the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Do not use oils or lotions near your 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.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.

When should you call for help?

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

  • You have chest pain, are short of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You are very sleepy and you have trouble waking up.

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

  • You have new or worse nausea or vomiting.
  • 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 cast 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.
    • Redness or swelling in your leg.

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 cast.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter E072 in the search box to learn more about "Broken Kneecap: Care Instructions".

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.