A dislocated kneecap (patella dislocation) is when your kneecap completely dislocates out of normal alignment. It is most common for it to dislocate outwardly as the muscles on the outside of the leg are often stronger than on the inside. This often happens spontaneously and you will have no control over it.
Unfortunately, other problems occur when the kneecap dislocates. The most common is tearing the ligaments on the inside of the knee that work to stabilise the kneecap. You can also endure wear and tear behind the kneecap, as the friction can cause loose bones to be knocked off during the dislocation. These fragments can be removed with surgery.
What are the early signs and symptoms of a dislocated kneecap?
The most likely symptoms include:
- Tenderness or pain
- Swelling and a wobbly kneecap
- A feeling of instability and your knee giving way when you are walking
- A weakness in the inner quadriceps muscles
- Noticing your kneecap popping out of place
What causes a dislocated kneecap?
- Playing sports – when twisting or changing directions rapidly
- Having a history of dislocations
- If you are hypermobile you will genetically be at higher risk
- Direct trauma, such as falling over on the kneecap itself
- Poor knee biomechanics such as a shallow groove of the knee cap or weak inner quadriceps muscles
How is a dislocated kneecap diagnosed?
When you see your doctor or physiotherapist, they will ask you how and when the pain started. They will want to compare both knees and may ask you to perform some simple standing and bending exercises to help with their diagnosis.
In the first instance, you may be referred for imaging to rule out any other physical injuries. Physiotherapy is often recommended to decrease your chances of getting a recurrent dislocation.
Most patients with a dislocated knee cap respond very well to physiotherapy. However, in some severe cases surgery may be required to repair bone or ligament damage caused by the dislocation.
How long does it take to recover from a dislocated kneecap?
This will depend on a number different factors, including how many dislocations you’ve had and whether there is damage to other structures of the knee joint.
If this is your first dislocation and your cartilage has not been affected, starting physiotherapy soon after the injury will speed up recovery. With regular physiotherapy, hopefully you will not require any surgical intervention and be able to resume normal activities within six to 12 weeks after starting physio.
If you have damaged your cartilage then you may require surgery to repair the damage and to reconstruct the ligament. If this is the case, your recovery process could take a lot longer.
The knee surgeon will look at many factors before deciding to operate or not. These include:
- Is this your first dislocation or have you have had several dislocations?
- If the cartilage is damaged and does it need to be repaired?
- If your medial patellofemoral ligament is torn, does it need to be repaired?
Whether your doctor decides if you need surgery or not, physiotherapy is an absolute must to ensure that strength, stability, and mobility are restored.
How physiotherapy can help your dislocated kneecap
We will do whatever we can to get you on the fastest route to recovery. Some of the treatment methods we use include:
- Strengthening exercises
- Myofascial trigger point release
- Cross-friction massage
- Stretching and range of movement exercises
- Functional exercises