People with acute patellar injuries may experience one or some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Knee Pain with movement. Individuals who have suffered an acute patellar injury may experience knee pain when moving or otherwise putting pressure on the kneecap. In the event of dislocation or patellar chondromalacia, the pain will be sharp but fade with rest. Patellar fractures, on the other hand, tend to cause sharp pain immediately after injury, and remain consistently aching throughout healing. Pain may intensify particularly when walking up or down stairs or an incline, or when walking on an uneven surface.
  • Localized tenderness. Usually, the knee will be tend to be painful to palpation (a firm touch) around the injured area.
  • Knee Swelling. Almost all athletes with acute patellar injuries experience swelling on the front of the knee. The more severe the injury, the greater the swelling will be, and significant swelling can make it difficult to bend the knee. Swelling is typically most pronounced immediately following the injury, although fracture and dislocation will also cause generalized knee swelling.
  • Weakness. Often after an acute injury of the knee the quadriceps muscle will not contract, which is called “quad inhibition.”
  • Inability to straighten the leg. Athletes with acute patellar injuries may find that they cannot flex the knee joint fully or straighten the leg. This may be exacerbated by swelling of the knee.
  • Inability to walk. The tenderness of the knee paired with the underlying injury may make it impossible for an athlete to put his or her full weight on the knee joint.
  • Bruising. A bruise may develop over the knee cap, with a reddish hue immediately following the injury as blood rushes to the injured area. This can gradually turn a bluish color over a couple of days.
  • Noticeable gap in the kneecap. If the kneecap has been fractured, a gap in the patella may be visibly noticeable.

The symptoms can vary greatly depending on the individual and severity of the injury.

Dr. Michael Erickson is a sports medicine physician who provides care for adults and children. He also serves as the Sports Medicine Fellowship Director at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, WA. Dr. Erickson's interests are concussion management and musculoskeletal diagnostic procedures. He is the Head Team Physician for all of Seattle University's varsity sport programs.