What is a Dislocated Kneecap?

Published: 09th February 2009
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A dislocated kneecap is easy to see. The bony knob that usually lies directly in front of the knee shifts to the outer side of the joint. A dislocated kneecap is also known as Patellar dislocation or instability. More technically, it is when the triangle-shaped bone covering the knee, called the patella, moves or slides out of place. The problem usually occurs toward the outside of the leg.

Although women are more prone to dislocated kneecaps than men, defective thigh bones, weak leg muscles or tendons and knock knees make dislocation more likely in both sexes. It is usually a result of sudden direction changes while running. This puts the knee under stress. Dislocation may also occur as a direct result of injury. When it is dislocated, the kneecap may slip sideways and around to the outside of the knee.

The first few times this occurs, you will feel pain and be unable to walk. However, if dislocations continue to occur and are untreated, you may feel less pain and have less immediate disability. This is not a reason to avoid treatment. Kneecap dislocation damages your knee joint.

Symptoms of dislocated Kneecap

* Kneecap or patella is displaced to the outside of the knee

* Knee swelling

* Knee pain and tenderness

* "Sloppy" kneecap where you can that is able to move the kneecap excessively from right to left (known as hypermobile patella)

First Aid

If you suspect that you may have dislocated your knee do not try forcefully to straighten out or bend your leg.

Place the knee in a comfortable position and give it support. It helps if you lie down and support the knee in a raised position.

Put an ice pack on the knee to relieve pain and prevent swelling. Painkillers or anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen may also help.

See a doctor as soon as possible if you think you have dislocated your kneecap. You should also seek medical advice for pain or swelling sustained after a knee injury during exercise, sport or an accident.

If you are receiving treatment for a kneecap injury and it does not seem to be getting better after a week or more, go back to your doctor. You should also return to the doctor if there is:

* increasing pain

* weakness

* instability

* new or continued swelling

A knee x-ray and, sometimes, MRIs should be done to make sure that the dislocation did not cause a bone to break or cartilage to be damaged. If tests show that you have no such damage, your knee will be placed into an immobilizer or cast to prevent you from moving it for several weeks. After this time, physical therapy is done to help build back your muscle strength and improve the knee's range of motion.

If the knee remains unstable, surgery may be necessary to stabilize the kneecap. This may be done using arthroscopic or open surgery.


Use proper technique when exercising or playing sports. Warm up and stretch all muscles and joints. Some cases of knee dislocation may not be preventable, especially if anatomic factors predispose you to dislocation.

To reduce the risk of knee injuries during sports activities:

* exercise regularly to stay in shape,

* stretch and warm up before starting the activity,

* wear kneepads or other suitable protection,

* stick to the proper technique for the activity,

* wear properly cushioned sports footwear,

* train on appropriate surfaces.

Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation Exercises

After dislocating a kneecap, you may have to wear a knee immobiliser for up to six weeks to stop the leg bending.

Later, special exercises can restore the knee to health and physiotherapy will help restore strength to the leg and knee joint.

The rehabilitative exercises known as "Pilates" are actually great for people with injuries like a dislocated kneecap because it can be undertaken without straining the affected area. It is also good for weak muscles and particularly bad posture because it encourages you to strengthen your problem areas in a relaxed and low impact way. Of course, it is advisable that anyone with serious injuries consults their doctor or physio first.

Fiona Eakin has been a Pilates instructor for over 10 years. Fiona has specific Pilates exercise programs to help relieve your knee pain or neck and shoulder pain.

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