Patellar Dislocation

A patellar dislocation occurs when the kneecap slides out of place. The patella is the bone more commonly known the kneecap. It fits securely in a V-shaped groove in front of the knee so that the patella can move up and down when the leg is bent or straightened. Patellar dislocation is very common. Treatment includes nonsurgical manipulation of the patella, immobilization, medications, and physical therapy. In some cases, surgery may be required to repair damage caused by the dislocation.

  • Causes

    Trauma or abnormal movement at the knee causes patellar dislocation. Examples include:

    • A direct blow to the knee or from injury, such as a fall
    • Tension that applies force from side-to-side on the patella
    • Sudden twisting motions

  • Definition

    A patellar dislocation occurs when the kneecap slides out of place. The patella is the bone more commonly known the kneecap. It fits securely in a V-shaped groove in front of the knee so that the patella can move up and down when the leg is bent or straightened.

    Patellar dislocation is very common. Treatment includes nonsurgical manipulation of the patella, immobilization, medications, and physical therapy. In some cases, surgery may be required to repair damage caused by the dislocation.

    The Kneecap
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  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This will include a thorough exam of your patella to check for tenderness and swelling. If possible, your doctor will have you walk. Your doctor may be able to make the diagnosis based on your symptoms.

    Imaging tests like CT Scan or x-rays may be done to see if there is any damage to other structures.

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of patellar dislocation, keep quadriceps and hamstring muscles strong with strengthening and stretching exercises.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your risk for patellar dislocation include:

    • Shallow V-shaped groove on front of your knee.
    • Knock knees—knees angled inward and touching when the legs are straight
    • Flat feet—fallen arches in the feet
    • Excess pronation of the feet—inward roll of the feet when walking or running

    Other factors that can create instability in the patella include:

    • Weak thigh muscles
    • A patella that sits too high on the thigh bone
    • Weakened and stretched ligaments from a previous patellar dislocations

  • Symptoms

    Patellar dislocation may cause:

    • Extreme pain and swelling at the knee
    • Buckling under your own weight
    • Stiffness
    • Abnormal appearance of the knee

  • Treatment

    If your patella did not return to the V-shaped groove on its own, your doctor will manipulate it back into place.

    Your knee will be immobilized in a brace for stability and support. You may need the brace for up to 4 weeks. Your activities will be limited until your knee is stable again.