Patella Dislocation

What is patella dislocation?

Patella dislocation occurs when the kneecap slips out of its place in the patellar groove. It usually moves to the outside (laterally). It can happen when your foot is planted and you rapidly twist or change direction. When the patella dislocates, the ligaments that hold it in place are often stretched and damaged.  Patella dislocation may also cause damage to the cartilage lining the patella.

Patella dislocation is common in young active people. There may be pre-existing looseness of the ligament and abnormal alignment of the leg, allowing the kneecap to move too much.

The patella tends to move back into place when the leg is straightened. But once the patella has dislocated, there’s a good chance it will happen again because of the ligament stretch.

Note that a patella dislocation is not the same as a knee dislocation.

What are the symptoms of patella dislocation?

The symptoms of a patella dislocation are:

  • a popping sensation when the patella slips out
  • pain, which is worse while the kneecap is dislocated
  • tenderness on the inner side of the knee
  • swelling and sometimes some bruising
  • an unstable kneecapyou don’t trust (ie it has a tendency to want to slip out)
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What does your doctor look for?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Your doctor will examine your knee looking for pain, swelling and any signs of patella instability and limb malaglinment.

If your knee is dislocated when you see your doctor, it will usually be put back in place (reduced) before other investigations are performed.

What investigations are needed?

Your doctor may request an x-ray if concerned about the possibility of patella fracture or other associated fracture. An MRI may also be used to identify damage to the cartilage and ligaments around the patella.

How is patella dislocation treated?

If you have only dislocated your patella once, treatment will usually involve:

  • putting the patella back into place – once the kneecap is back in its groove, the symptoms are rapidly relieved
  • pain medication
  • immobilising the knee with a splint or cast
  • investigations (if needed)
  • rehabilitation with or without a brace

If you have recurrent patella dislocations, treatment options include:

  • therapy (eg physiotherapy to strengthen relevant muscles to reduce patellar instability, use of a splint)
  • surgery to repair the damaged ligament and possibly correct the alignment of the limb

Our specialists at Orthopaedic Clinics Gold Coast will work with you to create the best treatment plan for your particular situation.