Executive Editor: Rick Buckley, Chris Colton

Authors: Florian Gebhard, Phil Kregor, Chris Oliver

Patella Complete articular, frontal/coronal multifragmentary fracture

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1 Principles top

Treatment goals

The patello-femoral joint is biomechanically very stressed when the knee is loaded. Any compromise of the joint surface is likely to lead to degenerative joint disease. It is, therefore, highly desirable, in patellar fractures to strive for anatomical reduction of the joint surface and stable fixation.

In wedge or multifragmentary complete articular fractures, anatomical reduction of the joint surface in relation to all the fragments, combined with durable restoration of the integrity of the extensor mechanism is not commonly achievable.
K-wires with heavy sutures applied in standard "tension band configuration" draws the fragments together as anatomically as possible and permits controlled quadriceps rehabilitation in the medium to late healing phases. The joint surface commonly heals with some irregularity, predisposing to secondary degenerative joint disease.

An additional treatment goal is restoration of function of the knee extensor mechanism and allow early range of motion of the knee.


Tension band principles

The forces produced by the quadriceps on patellar fractures are significant and may cause early fixation failure. For example, screw fixation alone would generally fail. The physiological forces acting on the patella tend to distract the fragments, more on the anterior than at the posterior aspect.

The anterior tension band converts tensile forces on the anterior aspect of the knee joint ...


... into compression forces at the joint line. In the patella, an anterior figure-of-eight wire loop acts as a tension band during flexion of the knee.

Multifragmentary patellar fractures cannot be fixed with a tension band. To be able to use a tension band, the posterior articular cortex cannot be comminuted as it must provide a buttress to allow compression.

In young patients with good quality bone, tension band principles are firm. But in older patients with bad quality bone, the tension band principle is less important to adhere to and obtaining fracture healing is more important. Often the posterior articular surface is less injured than the dorsal anterior surface and so tension band stitch will work nicely to obtain fracture union.

2 Patient preparation and approach top


Patient preparation

This procedure is normally performed with the patient in a supine position with the knee flexed 30°.



For this procedure a mid-axial longitudinal approach is used.

3 Reduction and K-wire insertion top



The knee joint and fracture lines must be irrigated and cleared of blood clot and small debris to allow exact reconstruction.



Reduce the major fracture fragments using a pointed bone reduction forceps or tenaculum. Transverse fractures are more easily reduced with the leg in extension and sagittal fractures are more easily reduced with the leg in flexion.


Verification of reduction

Anatomical reduction of the articular surface is monitored by palpating the joint from inside, as neither inspection nor the x-ray will reveal a minor step off. This will require creation of a small arthrotomy.

Nevertheless, an image intensifier or X-ray images should always be available, so that the reduction can be checked in the AP and lateral planes if needed.


K-wire insertion

Using the outside-in technique, drill the first K-wire in an axial direction. The second K-wire is then drilled parallel to the first, through the reduced fragments ensuring the K-wires do not enter the joint. It may be difficult to find the right direction and position for the wires. The direction is verified by lateral imaging.

Two parallel K-wires should be inserted to give more stable fixation.

Reduction is again verified by palpation of the joint surface.

4 Suture insertion top


Insert a nr. 5 Ethibond non-absorbable stitch in a figure-of-eight fashion.

Push the stitch a close as possible to the angle between the bone and the protruding K-wire tips.

The stitch should be as close as possible to the bone throughout its whole course both superiorly and inferiorly.


Applying the figure-of-eight stitch

While tightening the figure-of-eight stitch with the knee in extension, check the reduction by palpating the retropatellar surface (this will require creation of a small arthrotomy).

Once the stitch is tightened, a second stitch is placed. Care is taken not to damage the first stitch with the sharp needle.

After tightening the figure-of-eight stitch, bend the proximal pin ends, shorten them, turn them towards the quadriceps tendon, and drive them into the patella to prevent skin irritation and loosening.

The distal pin ends are trimmed to remove the sharp points, but not bent, for easier removal.


Additional stabilization

Further stabilization may be achieved with the addition of with cerclage stitch/wire and/or lag screws.

v2.0 2019-03-21