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Bruised Knee

What is a bruised knee?

A bruised knee is an injury that causes pain and usually discoloration in your patella. Patella is the medical term for kneecap. A bruised knee is also called a patellar contusion.

How does it occur?

A bruised kneecap occurs from a direct injury to your kneecap. This usually happens from falling onto your knee or by being hit by an object.

What are the symptoms?

You will have pain directly over your kneecap. You may also have pain underneath your kneecap. You may have swelling in your knee. You may have pain walking or running. The outside of your knee may become swollen if the bursa is bruised. The bursa is a fluid filled sac just in front of the patella.

How is it diagnosed?

Your provider will ask you about your symptoms and examine your knee. He or she may order an X-ray.

How is it treated?

To treat this condition:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Raise your knee on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.
  • Use crutches as directed by your provider.
  • Follow your provider’s instructions for doing exercises to help you recover.

While you are recovering from your injury, you may need to change your sport or activity to one that does not make your condition worse. For example, you may need to swim or bicycle instead of run.

How long will the effects last?

The effects of a bruised kneecap may last several days to weeks or longer. It may take longer if the back of the kneecap is injured.

When can I return to my normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities depends on how soon your knee recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury.

You may safely return to your normal activities when, starting from the top of the list and progressing to the end, each of the following is true:

  • Your injured knee can be fully straightened and bent without pain.
  • Your knee and leg have regained normal strength compared to the uninjured knee and leg.
  • You are able to walk, bend, and squat without pain.

What can I do to prevent a bruised kneecap?

Most bruised kneecaps are caused by accidents that cannot be prevented. If you are in a sport that has knee protection, be sure that your equipment fits properly.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-02-09
Last reviewed: 2010-06-21
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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