Tibial Plateau Fracture: Recovery Time and Physical Therapy Tips!

tibial plateau fracture recovery time

Do you have a fracture of the tibial plateau? You probably want to know first and foremost the recovery and healing time for a broken tibial plateau.

But also, what you can do to maximize your chances of recovering quickly and well. And how to treat a fracture or cracked tibial plateau.

In this blog post, I answer all the questions that people have after a tibial plateau fracture, regardless of its type. To answer them, I rely on:

  • 👩🏽‍⚕️ my experience as a physical therapist for over 11 years;
  • 📚 the available data in the international scientific literature on the subject. All references are at the end of the article.

More questions? Don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments, I will be happy to answer them.

Last update: October 2023
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Written by Nelly Darbois, a trained french physical therapist, scientific writer, 

If you would like more information about this rehabilitation period, I have dedicated an eBook to this topic 🙂!

ebook fracture recovery

What are the different types of tibial plateau fractures?

The tibial plateau is a part of the tibia bone, located at the top of the bone.

It is actually divided into two parts, hence the distinction between:

  • Internal tibial plateau fracture (fracture on the inner side of the knee plateau)
  • External or lateral tibial plateau fracture (fracture on the outer side of the knee plateau)
  • Bicondylar fracture (fracture affecting both plateaus)

The tibial plateau is part of the knee joint and is composed of cartilage, subchondral bone, tuberosities, and spines. These terms may appear on your X-ray report.

There are numerous ways to classify these fractures, with 38 classifications identified in a recent publication (Millar, 2018). For example: schatzker classification, ICD-10 ( International Classification of Diseases Tenth Revision) codes, etc.

classification of plateau tibial fracture
There are different types of fractures, ranging from less severe (non-displaced fracture at a single point) to more severe (multiple fractures of the tibia and fibula with displaced fracture). Picture : Alves, D., Wun, P., Alves, A. L., Christian, R. W., Mercadante, M. T., & Hungria, J. O. (2020). Weight Discharge in Postoperative of Plateau Fracture Tibialis: Systematic Review of Literature. Revista brasileira de ortopedia55(4), 404–409. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0039-3402454

Radiography is often enough to determine the type of fracture, although some teams prefer to use a CT scan or MRI.

Knowing the exact type of tibia fracture you have based on a particular classification, however, will not provide a reliable prognosis for the speed and quality of your recovery.

Some terms you may hear include: tibial plateau crack or micro-crack, stress fracture, small fracture, joint depression, and tibial plateau impaction fracture. These do not significantly change the management approach.

Your fracture may be with or without displacement. A fracture is said to be displaced when there is a significant gap between two or more bone fragments. These fractures are generally more troublesome and often require surgery, even in older people.

Tibial plateau fracture seen on CT scan.
Left tibial plateau fracture seen on CT scan. Picture: Liu ZY, Zhang JL, Liu C, Cao Q, Shen QJ, Zhao JC. Surgical Strategy for Anterior Tibial Plateau Fractures in Hyperextension Knee Injuries. Orthop Surg. 2021;13(3):966-978. doi:10.1111/os.12997

The symptoms of a fracture are quite characteristic, and in the vast majority of cases, it does not go unnoticed.

If your fracture is located elsewhere on the tibia bone, read this more general blog post on recovery after tibial fracture.

What is the recovery time for a tibial plateau fracture?

Several factors will determine your healing time:

  • The severity of the fracture (especially if it is displaced or not, and if there are multiple bone fragments)
  • Associated injuries (such as a torn anterior cruciate ligament, or other soft tissue injuries, meniscus damage)
  • Your general condition before the accident
  • Genetic predispositions to recover more or less well
  • The delay between the fracture and the operation, if you have surgery
  • Whether or not you smoke (smoking delays fracture healing)
  • And probably other unidentified factors!

That’s why it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to give you a precise prognosis for your recovery. Not to mention that different things can be meant by “recovery”!

⏱️ Here’s a table summarizing the different stages of recovery and healing after a displaced or non-displaced tibial plateau fracture, with or without surgery. As there is little data in the literature on this subject, I mainly based myself on my own experience as a physiotherapist with people who have had this type of fracture.

StageTimeframe from day of fracture
Less painWithin a few hours to a few days
Bones are well healed (healing time)After 6 weeks to 3 months
Knee swelling disappearsWithin a few weeks to a few months (often)
Walking with crutchesImmediately
Walking without crutches2 to 6 months
Driving a car 🚗2 to 6 months
Returning to workVaries depending on your activity. Generally, 3-4 months. Between 10 and 700 days (Kraus 2018)
Return to sport 🏃‍♂️Varies depending on the sport! Between 3 and 18 months, on average 7 months (Robertson 2017)
Full functional and muscular recovery4 months to 1 and a half years
Typical healing and recovery time after a tibial plateau fracture.

When can you drive after a tibial plateau fracture?

You will find very different opinions on the subject of resuming driving after a tibial plateau fracture.

In United-States 🇺🇲, the law varies by state. Some states do not have specific regulations regarding resuming driving after a fracture, while others do.

In France 🇫🇷, The Highway Code does not provide any specific guidance on this matter. It is up to the driver to ensure that their condition is compatible with reactive driving.

If you have a strict contraindication, the use of pedals is not recommended, even if you will put much less weight on the pedals than when walking.

In an academic publication dedicated to resuming driving after a tibial plateau fracture, the following delays are given: wait 18 weeks or 6 weeks from the moment full weight bearing is allowed for the right side, and no delays for the left leg.

In practice, my patients resume driving much earlier, from a few days to a few weeks after plateau tibial fracture.

Upcoming article: When to Drive After a Fracture or Surgery?

When walking & weight bearing after tibial plateau fracture?

Regardless of the type of fracture and treatment you have, you can start walking right away! However, you will likely need to adapt your walking style and put more or less weight on the broken leg.

There are 3 scenarios:

🪨 Your fracture is stable enough and healing will occur even with weight bearing (rare). The (para)medical team following you informs you that you can bear weight on your leg as much as you wish. However, pain may limit you a bit, and you may need crutches for a few weeks, but you can put your foot down and bear weight on it.

Your fracture is unstable. There is a risk of improper healing if you bear too much weight on it (most often). In this case, there are 2 possibilities:

  • You are advised to use partial weight-bearing for 6 to 12 weeks: you can put your foot down but without putting your body weight on it (about 10 kilos maximum). So you will walk with crutches or a walker. Your physiotherapist will show you how to do it. You can practice putting a maximum of 10 kilos on a scale.
  • You are recommended to strictly avoid weight-bearing. You cannot put your foot down until the follow-up X-ray shows good healing, which usually takes 6 to 12 weeks. You can walk with crutches but only on one leg.

You can start walking with crutches right away. Depending on the stability of your fracture, you may be able to put more or less weight on your foot.

If you would like more information about this rehabilitation period, I have dedicated an eBook to this topic 🙂!

ebook fracture recovery

How long does swelling last after tibial plateau fracture?

After a knee injury, it is very common for the knee to swell. This is referred to as knee edema in medical terms. The swelling can persist for a long time.

The knee remains swollen for at least a few weeks after a tibial plateau fracture, and this can last several months.

Here is this blog post to learn more about the causes and treatments of knee swelling.

Is it normal to experience pain after a tibial plateau fracture?

It is usual to have pain in the days and weeks following a tibial plateau fracture. Normally, this pain should be relieved by the usual means:

  • Stay as active as possible, taking the pain into account;
  • Identify and adopt positions and movements that relieve the pain;
  • Apply cold if it helps;
  • Possibly take pain-relieving medications. In general, the medical team that diagnosed your fracture will also prescribe various medications to relieve pain as needed.

Even though it may seem counterintuitive, pain is not something to panic about, nor should it make you think there is a “problem,” or that the tibial plateau fracture is very serious and will take a long time to recover from.

Pain is a complex phenomenon, related to many different factors, including in the case of a fracture. Some people will have more pain than others after a tibial plateau fracture.

What is the treatment for a tibial plateau fracture?

Most often, a tibial plateau fracture requires surgery.

Less commonly, the treatment will be conservative: treatment without surgery, but with simple immobilization or restriction of weight-bearing.

Tibial plateau surgery

Within hours or at most days following the fracture, you will probably undergo surgery. The goal of the surgery is to:

  • stabilize the fracture;
  • maximize the chances that your bones will heal well to limit the risk of complications.

Depending on your fracture and the practices of the team taking care of you, different types of procedures will be performed and different materials may be used to reduce and stabilize your fracture (osteosynthesis with screws or plate-screws, external fixator, bone graft, knee replacement…).

This X-ray shows an example of equipment used in cases of tibial plateau fracture: a plate and screws.

X-ray shows an example of equipment used in cases of tibial plateau fracture: a plate and screws
This X-ray shows an example of equipment used in cases of tibial plateau fracture: a plate and screws.
Source: Liu ZY, Zhang JL, Liu C, Cao Q, Shen QJ, Zhao JC. Surgical Strategy for Anterior Tibial Plateau Fractures in Hyperextension Knee Injuries. Orthop Surg. 2021;13(3):966-978. doi:10.1111/os.12997

You will get an overview of these techniques by reading the operation report 🗒️ (often included in your discharge letter, or that you can request to retrieve).

The (para)medical team who operates on you or follows you during the post-operative period can also provide you with more detailed information about the procedure performed if it is important to you.

You may also have a brace to limit knee flexion, as well as instructions on how much weight to put on your foot.

🛠️ The hardware can usually be removed about 1 year after it was placed after broken plateau tibial.

Compression socks or stockings are typically prescribed to reduce the risk of blood clots (which occur very rarely in any case).

Non-surgical treatment for tibial plateau fracture

If the fracture is not displaced, sometimes you may not need surgery.

You may then have a cast (often a lower leg cast, up to mid-thigh) or a brace (or knee immobilizer) limiting knee flexion for a few weeks, as well as instructions to partially weight bear on your foot.

It is the medical team who has seen your X-ray and knows your overall health and medical history who determines this.

Do you need a brace after a tibial plateau fracture?

The prescription of a brace (or knee immobilizer) is not systematic after a tibial plateau fracture.

If no one has prescribed it to you, you probably don’t need it!

When a brace (see on Amazon exemple of knee brace) is prescribed, it is generally for one of these 3 reasons:

  • the surgical team thinks that the consolidation will be better by limiting the flexion of your knee;
  • or you have a loss of strength in the quadriceps, one of the muscles that helps prevent your knee from “giving way” with each step,
  • or you have instability of the knee joint. The brace in this case reduces the risk of your knee buckling when you take support on your leg; the people who are following you think that limiting the mobility of your knee will relieve some of the pain.

A knee immobilizer may be prescribed for the same reasons. But it limits knee mobility less and stabilizes it less. It is often better tolerated.

The brace (or knee immobilizer) can be removed when you are lying down (at night, during the day). It is kept for a few days to a few weeks at most.

Tibial plateau fracture rehab protocol & physical therapy

Most of the time, one of the main goals of physiotherapy will be to help you regain good knee flexion to avoid stiffness, while also preserving the opposite movement, extension.

Generally, the flexion can be gradually sought from the day after the surgery.

Sometimes, post-operative instructions are to wait a few weeks (sometimes 3, sometimes 6, rarely more) before starting to work on flexion.

Your physiotherapist will show you exercises to work on knee flexion independently and safely.

Often, it is better for you to frequently solicit knee flexion and extension throughout the day, rather than doing one large session per day. Hence the importance of learning to perform this mobility work on your own.

Other goals of rehabilitation will be to:

  • reassure you and answer your questions;
  • give you advice to better relieve your pain and limit the risk of complications;
  • help you gradually resume your daily activities;
  • encourage you to remain as active as possible;
  • find the appropriate technical aids and walking pattern for you;
  • provide exercises to maintain your muscle strength and cardiovascular capacity, so that you are deconditioned as little as possible;
  • help you gradually resume all your pre-injury activities through progressive reconditioning, including leg muscle strengthening.

Can you experience complications after a tibial plateau fracture?

There is a high likelihood that you will fully recover from a tibial plateau fracture. After a few months, you should not have any complications.

After non surgical plateau tibial fracture, 100% return to sports if they were doing it before.

For those who had surgery, 70% of them return to sports, on average, after 7 months. (Robertson 2017)

In rare cases where there are complications, they may include:

Complication after a tibial fracture are rare. When they occur, they may include stiffness, delay in consolidation, pain, or arthritis.

See also: Life after plateau tibial fracture


Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !

If you feel the need to learn more about the recovery period after a tibial plateau fracture, I wrote this guide in eBook format:

You may also like:


Epidemiology. Millar SC, Arnold JB, Thewlis D, Fraysse F, Solomon LB. A systematic literature review of tibial plateau fractures: What classifications are used and how reliable and useful are they? Injury. 2018 Mar;49(3):473-490. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2018.01.025. Epub 2018 Jan 31. PMID: 29395219.

Physcial therapy after plateau tibial fracture

Iliopoulos E, Galanis N. Physiotherapy after tibial plateau fracture fixation: A systematic review of the literature. SAGE Open Med. 2020 Oct 14;8:2050312120965316. doi: 10.1177/2050312120965316. PMID: 33133602; PMCID: PMC7576901.

Treatment with or without surgery

Mthethwa J, Chikate A. A review of the management of tibial plateau fractures. Musculoskelet Surg. 2018 Aug;102(2):119-127. doi: 10.1007/s12306-017-0514-8. Epub 2017 Oct 17. PMID: 29043562

Alves DPL, Wun PYL, Alves AL, Christian RW, Mercadante MT, Hungria JO. Weight Discharge in Postoperative of Plateau Fracture Tibialis: Systematic Review of Literature. Rev Bras Ortop (Sao Paulo). 2020 Aug;55(4):404-409. doi: 10.1055/s-0039-3402454. Epub 2020 Apr 2. PMID: 32904813; PMCID: PMC7458742.

Nondisplaced tibial plateau fracture treatment

Obana KK, Lee G, Lee LSK. Characteristics, Treatments, and Outcomes of Tibial Plateau Nonunions: A Systematic Review. J Clin Orthop Trauma. 2020 Dec 19;16:143-148. doi: 10.1016/j.jcot.2020.12.017. PMID: 33717949; PMCID: PMC7920010.

Melugin HP, Bernard CD, Camp CL, Stuart MJ, Saris DBF, Nakamura N, Krych AJ. Tibial Plateau Cartilage Lesions: A Systematic Review of Techniques, Outcomes, and Complications. Cartilage. 2021 Dec;13(1_suppl):31S-41S. doi: 10.1177/1947603519855767. Epub 2019 Jun 16. PMID: 31204491; PMCID: PMC8808855.

Surgery after tibial plateau fracture & complications

Wong MT, Bourget-Murray J, Johnston K, Desy NM. Understanding the role of total knee arthroplasty for primary treatment of tibial plateau fracture: a systematic review of the literature. J Orthop Traumatol. 2020 May 25;21(1):7. doi: 10.1186/s10195-020-00546-8. PMID: 32451839; PMCID: PMC7248151.

Shao J, Chang H, Zhu Y, Chen W, Zheng Z, Zhang H, Zhang Y. Incidence and risk factors for surgical site infection after open reduction and internal fixation of tibial plateau fracture: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Surg. 2017 May;41:176-182. doi: 10.1016/j.ijsu.2017.03.085. Epub 2017 Apr 4. PMID: 28385655.

Return to work time

Kraus, TM, Abele, C, Freude, T, et al. Duration of incapacity of work after tibial plateau fracture is affected by work intensity. BMC Musculoskelet Disord 2018; 19(1): 1–8.

Return to sport

Robertson GAJ, Wong SJ, Wood AM. Return to sport following tibial plateau fractures: A systematic review. World J Orthop. 2017 Jul 18;8(7):574-587. doi: 10.5312/wjo.v8.i7.574. PMID: 28808629; PMCID: PMC5534407.

photo de nelly darbois, kinésithérapeute et rédactrice web santé

By Nelly Darbois

I love to write articles that are based on my experience as a physiotherapist and extensive research in the international scientific literature.

I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️ where I work as a physiotherapist and scientific editor for my own website, where you are.

10 thoughts on “Tibial Plateau Fracture: Recovery Time and Physical Therapy Tips!

  1. Hi

    This was shared on my MRI report, but I have no idea what this means (in normal people language lol), can you help me decipher what this means:

    Small suprapatellar joint space effusion, predominantly filling the medial and lateral recesses as well as the
    intercondylar notch. Mild associated synovitis. No Baker’s cyst. No intra-articular loose bodies.

    There is an acute mildly impacted and depressed lateraltibial plateau fracture, extending from the level of the
    proximal tibiofibular articulation into the intercondylar notch, with subtle depression of approximately 3 millimeters is
    appreciated. The PD low signal intensity fracture line is STIR hyperintense, surrounded by bone stress response. Subtle
    microtrabecular contusion/bone bruising involving the periphery of the lateral femoral condyle without associated
    fracture line, possibly related to a kissing contusion.

    The patella is not high riding, and is appropriately seated over the trochlear groove. Chondral fibrillation and fissuring
    of the median ridge, medial and lateral patellar facet but no full-thickness extent or subchondral signal change.

    1. Hi, In summary, this mainly states that there is a fracture of the tibial plateau affecting the joint, as well as a small crack in the kneecap.

      Typically, when such an examination is conducted, an appointment is scheduled with a doctor or surgeon to discuss the recommended treatment and assess the situation. 🙂

  2. Hi Thank you for the information on the tibial plateau fracture. I tripped 4 weeks ago and suffered a nondisplaced tibial plateau fracture and knee cap fracture. I cannot weight bear and I am using a wheelchair and walker. I have much faith in my orthopedic doctor and I am so waiting to hear when I can start physical therapy. I am 63 years old, I walk everyday, hike and bicycle ride in addition to working part time at a school. I am a very active person so mentally and physically this is challenging. My only fear is could I still end up needing surgery I go back to the doctor in 2 weeks for X-rays and sometimes i feel where the break was it hurts Please tell me is pain normal when healing
    Thank you

    1. Hi, Yes, pain is quite common at this stage. And when a fracture is not displaced, surgery is very rare. And even more so after a control X-ray several weeks after the fracture.
      Good recovery!

  3. Hi, thank you very much for the information!!! Here’s several things I really need to from a doctors point of view.

    Does having sex, as a male, affects bone recovery? Sexually active is quite important in my relationship and I’ve seen both negative and irrelevant articles, that’s why I’m confused.

    Does caffeine slows down the healing process? I usually take around a cup of coffee or tea at the morning (only).

    I really do appreciate the hard work you made, and hopefully gets your reply soon!

  4. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information. I had knee injury 28 days back while playing volleyball and below is the summary from MR

    “Very large lipohemarthrosis with comminuted intra-articular tibial plateau fracture. Multiple radiating tibial fracture lines extend throughout the medial and lateral tibial plateau and findings include transverse metaphyseal fracture. Small intra-articular fracture lines anterior tibial plateau with 2 mm depression(s) near anterior medial and lateral meniscotibial attachments. Likely hyperextension injury with a small subcentimeter nondepressed impaction in the anterior medial femoral condyle.”

    I still have knee swelling and pain and having hard time to stretch leg. Pain is sharp sometime and got frustrated since not able to do without braces and crutches. Do you have any idea how long it will take for recovery? Doctor has not given any medicine other than pain killer.


    1. Hi Ap,
      Thank you for your feedback.
      It’s difficult to give a precise deadline. As I explained in the article, recovery times are very variable and difficult to predict (even with an MRI report and physical examination). In your case, you have a comminuted fracture, and you’re only a month out from the accident. So it’s normal to be a little frustrated. You’ll probably need a few more months to regain more mobility, but it can come back more or less quickly in certain phases.
      Good luck with your recovery,

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