A person’s ability to walk, run, crouch, and jump are all dependent on healthy, functioning knees. A shattered knee injury can cause significant pain, and you may need extensive medical treatment so that you can get back to your normal activities. A broken kneecap can take months or longer to heal, making it difficult for you to work and lowering your quality of life.
What Is a Shattered Knee?
A shattered knee occurs when you break the patella bone, which sits in front of your knee joint. The patella protects your joint during falls and collisions, and injuring it can have a lasting effect on your mobility. A broken kneecap is usually the result of a direct impact, such as a fall onto a hard surface. It’s also a common injury in car accidents where a victim’s knee hits the dashboard.
Types of Knee Fractures
Shattered knee injuries vary in severity and type. A displaced fracture occurs when the patella breaks into multiple pieces that are no longer touching one another. In a nondisplaced fracture, on the other hand, the bones are broken but have not moved out of place. A doctor may also categorize your fracture as one of the following:
- Simple or hairline, which means there is a crack in the bone but it’s still in one piece
- Noncommunicated, or broken into two pieces
- Communicated, or broken into three or more pieces
Hairline fractures are typically associated with sports injuries, whereas communicated and noncommunicated injuries are more likely to occur during an accident.
Symptoms of a Shattered Knee
Following an accident, many people immediately realize that they have shattered knees because of the severe pain that they experience. Other possible symptoms include:
- Inability to straighten or extend your leg
- Inability to walk
In some cases, a broken kneecap will cause a visible bump or unusual shape, indicating that the bone is displaced. If you have an open fracture, you may also see the broken bone protruding through your skin.
Treatment for a Shattered Knee Injury
Most knee trauma is treatable, but some fractures are more difficult to repair than others. Depending on the seriousness of the injury, patients may spend several days in the hospital, followed by weeks and months of outpatient treatments.
If your knee is displaced or broken into multiple pieces, doctors might perform surgery to repair it. As Cedars Sinai explains, surgeons attempt to reconnect the bone pieces during this procedure, often using wire, screws, plates, or pins. This can be a difficult process because the muscles surrounding the kneecap naturally pull the pieces apart. Doctors may also have to reattach the tendon to the patella or remove pieces of bone that are too small to reconnect. In the worst cases, surgeons remove the entire kneecap and replace it with a prosthetic.
Stabilizing the Knee
In order for a fractured knee to heal, it has to remain in the same position so that the bones stay in alignment. Doctors typically use casts or braces to immobilize the knee and reduce pain and swelling during the recovery period. Some people with especially serious knee injuries continue to use braces to improve their mobility even after the bone has healed.
When a doctor removes a cast, a victim’s knee often feels stiff, and the surrounding muscles are weak due to lack of use. Physical therapy helps restore and increase your range of motion and improve your ability to walk as you did before your injury. Many physical therapists recommend exercises and stretches that people with shattered knees can continue to use to prevent additional pain and tension in their knees.
Risks From Shattered Knee Injuries
The knee is a complicated, weight-bearing joint, so an impact can cause short-term and long-term complications. According to the Cleveland Clinic, most people are able to return to regular activities within three to six months after sustaining a knee injury. Others may experience symptoms for years, limiting their ability to work, socialize, and care for themselves. Some patients report experiencing muscle weakness and chronic pain long after having their cast or brace removed.
A 2020 study revealed that people with shattered knees were also more likely to receive a total knee arthroplasty, also known as a kneecap replacement, because they were suffering from posttraumatic arthritis. While you may not require a prosthetic patella as part of your initial treatment, it may be necessary years later if your pain continues or intensifies.
Damages Available for Victims With Knee Injuries
If your shattered knee injury occurred because of someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you can seek compensation with a personal injury lawsuit. For instance, if you fell because a store owner neglected to clean up a wet floor and didn’t put up a caution sign, they may owe you compensation due to premises liability laws. Some of the damages they might owe you include:
- Medical bills. The costs of a fractured kneecap may include emergency care, x-rays and other diagnostic tests, surgery, prescription medications, and rehabilitative care.
- Lost wages and earning capacity. A knee injury can cause temporary unemployment or permanent disability, resulting in a substantial drop in income.
- Pain and suffering. A shattered knee may result in physical pain and emotional trauma, including anxiety and depression.
- Home modifications and assistive devices. Victims with fractured patellas may need ramps, wheelchairs, walkers, or support bars to move safely around their homes and in public.
When you attempt to recover damages for your shattered knee, take into account both past and future expenses. While your hospital stay may be over, the defendant is also responsible for the cost of physical therapy, check-ups, or pain medication that you will need to treat your injury through all the stages of your recovery.
Kneecap Fractures (Patella Fractures). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed on October 24, 2023.
Fractured Kneecap. Cedars Sinai. Accessed on October 24, 2023.
Patella Fracture. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed on October 24, 2023.
Knee Fracture Increases TKA Risk After Initial Fracture Treatment and Throughout Life. National Library of Medicine. Accessed on October 24, 2023