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Fracture of the patella

A fracture is a break in the bone. A patellar fracture is a break of the kneecap bone.

Patella fractures are usually the result of a hard blow to the front of the knee - falling on the knee, dashboard impact etcetera.

A simple fracture means that the injury does not break through the skin and a compound fracture means that it does. A comminuted fracture means that the bone has splintered in a number of directions, which makes management difficult and the outcome often poor.

Issues & controversies of patellar fractures

  • The usual surgical treatment option is a wire, and it is generally right around the edges of the patella - a 'cerclage' wire
  • The earlier the wire is put on and the edges of the fracture put together, the easier it is
  • In any case it is difficult
  • Even done early and under the image intensifier (a sort of dynamic X-ray machine) reduction may not be perfect (i.e. the edges may not come together properly)
  • Poor reduction will almost certainly lead to patello-femoral arthritis (damage to the joint surfaces between the kneecap and the thighbone)
  • Even a good reduction may progress to arthritis
  • The most common alternative is removal of the patella (patellectomy) - itself problematic as full function seldom returns to the knee after patellectomy
  • The newer technique of patellar resurfacing (putting a synthetic back to the kneecap) may be a viable alternative, but the jury is still out as to its current value
Updated: 18 Apr, 2013
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