Broken Kneecap in Children: Care Instructions

Skip Navigation
Normal and broken kneecaps

Overview

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 surgery is done, your child probably will wear a cast or brace (immobilizer) on the leg for several weeks while the kneecap heals. Help your child wear and take care of the cast or brace exactly as the doctor advises. Your child may need help with daily tasks.

Healthy habits can help your child heal. Provide a variety of healthy foods. And don't smoke around your child.

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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Be safe with medicines. 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 is hard to wake up.

Call your doctor 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 color.
  • Your child has tingling, weakness, or numbness in the toes.
  • Your child's cast or splint feels too tight.
  • Your child has signs of a blood clot in the leg (called a deep vein thrombosis), such as:
    • Pain in the calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness or swelling in the leg.

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

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

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter L415 in the search box to learn more about "Broken Kneecap in Children: Care Instructions".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.