Broken Kneecap: Care Instructions

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Your 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 any blows to your knee, such as a fall onto your knee or your knee hitting the dashboard. Symptoms of a broken kneecap (fracture) are 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 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 to ask for 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 call line 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

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

  • You have increased or severe pain.
  • Your leg or foot is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your foot and toes.
  • Your cast or splint feels too tight.
  • You cannot move your toes.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Drainage or a bad smell coming from the cast.
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from your knee.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.

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

  • The skin under your cast or splint burns or stings.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: May 23, 2016