Broken Knee On X-ray

Many different types of fractures can be seen on a knee X-ray.  Fractures can involve the lower femur bone, patella (knee cap), upper tibia bone or upper fibula.

Fractures can involve one or multiple bones.  Fractures can be stable and line up normally or separated (displaced).  Other fractures can be separated into multiple pieces (comminuted).

The fracture line can be across the bone, extending obliquely through it or longitudinal (up and down).  

Symptoms of broken knee

Symptoms of a broken knee will be pain, swelling, deformity, inability to bear weight, and loss of sensation.

How is knee fracture diagnosed?

Knee fractures are suspected clinically but diagnosed most commonly with X-rays.

CT scans are used to further evaluate complex fractures.

MRIs are used to look closer at the fractures and to assess any associated injuries of the structures of the knee.

What does broken knee look like on X-ray?

Broken knee on X-ray will involve the lower femur, patella, upper fibula and upper tibia.  We will see a dark line that represents the fracture interrupting the normal bone.

The fracture can involve one or multiple bones.  Fractures can be hairline and stable or displaced (separated).  Fractures can also break into multiple pieces (comminuted).

Types of knee fractures


Fractures of the patella or knee cap most commonly extend from side to side (transverse) but can also be up and down (longitudinal) or broken into multiple pieces.

Tibial Plateau

The tibial plateau is the top of the tibia bone.  This is fractured most commonly when the patient falls from a height.  These fractures can vary in complexity and location and can be graded based on classifications systems in the literature.


Fractures of the bottom of the femur bone occur as a result of a high energy injury in young people or in older people whose bones are osteoporotic.

The femur can break in multiple ways.  Sometimes these are stable fractures but the femur bone can break into multiple pieces.  Femur fractures can also extend into the joint.

What else can look like knee fracture in radiology?

Knee fractures are characteristic and rarely confused for other diagnosis.  Sometimes normal variations in bone structure can mimic a fracture.

What type of doctor treats a broken knee?

A broken knee is often treated by an orthopedic surgeon.  He may treat a broken knee even if it does not require operative management.

Knee fracture treatment

Fractures which are stable may be treated non operatively with splints and casts.  Patients can also benefit from physical rehabilitation to strengthen muscles and increase range of motion.

Surgery is reserved for complex cases where the bones don’t heal or the break is separated into multiple pieces.  The orthopedic surgeon may use hardware to improve healing and preserve function.

Knee fractures: summary

Knee fractures involve the bones around the knee.  There can be many types of fractures around the knee.  We can diagnose many fractures of the knee using X-rays.

CT and MRI can provide additional information about the fracture and surrounding tissues which will help with guiding treatment.  Many fractures are treated by orthopedic surgeons even if the fracture does not require surgery.

Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

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