A tibial tubercle fracture is an uncommon knee injury in young athletes. The tibial tubercle is the part of the top of the shin bone where the patellar tendon attaches. In young athletes, the growth center there is still open, leaving it vulnerable to injury.
Mechanism of injury of a tibial tubercle fracture
Typically, a young athlete suffers this injury in a jumping sport like basketball. He might land awkwardly from a jump and feel a pop in his knee. His pain will be located at the tibial tubercle on the front of the knee. That area might be more swollen than normal. He might also have trouble lifting his leg.
Treatment of a tibial tubercle fracture
The treatment of this knee injury depends on whether the fracture is displaced or not. If the bony piece lies where it should, it can heal appropriately without surgery. The athlete might have to wear a knee brace for a number of weeks. Some orthopedic surgeons even use a cast. Once the fracture heals, the athlete can start motion and strength work and work to return to sports.
If the fracture is displaced, surgery to reattach the fragment with screws is usually needed to make sure it heals correctly. The recovery time then depends on healing and how long it takes the athlete to regain knee strength and motion, but return to sports likely takes many months.