Dislocated Patella: Symptoms, Treatment & Recovery

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Hopefully, your kneecap sits right in the middle of your knee. But if it's off to the side, you might have a dislocated patella. Find out what this is, what its signs and symptoms may be, and what its general treatment options are.

Patellar Dislocation

As you bend your knee, the patella (kneecap) moves in a straight up-and-down motion over a groove at the knee joint. This is how it's supposed to work, anyhow. But if anything were to move the patella out of place, it would then, by definition, be dislocated. So a dislocated patella is simply a kneecap that's out of place.

The patella.
The patella

Let's go over this condition's signs, symptoms, and treatment options.

Signs & Symptoms

Little Jimmy is playing soccer at school. As he's running on the field, he realizes an opponent is in his way. He plants his foot on the ground and suddenly changes his direction. Before he knows it, he feels a popping sensation and hears a popping noise that's immediately followed by some serious knee pain. He drops to the ground in pain as his knee gives way.

Jimmy looks at his knee and see that his kneecap is to the outside of his knee. He tries to straighten his bent knee, but cannot. He also notices that his knee is beginning to swell. Jimmy tries to get up and keep going for the sake of his team, but he's unable to walk properly and has to be helped off of the field.

These are all possible signs and symptoms of a dislocated patella.


Jimmy is taken to the doctor right away. The doctor tells Jimmy's parents that he's got a dislocated patella. At this point, depending on the severity of the dislocation and on how often it's occurred in the past, the doctor may recommend one of the following treatments:

  • Reduction. The doctor will give little Jimmy some medication to help his muscles relax. This will allow the doctor to carefully move the patella back to where it belongs if it hasn't done so already on its own. Most of the time, the kneecap will pop back into the right place.
  • Other nonsurgical treatments, which can include a combination of wearing a brace, using crutches, and physical therapy.
  • Surgery. This is usually an option when the patella has dislocated numerous times and the nonsurgical treatments have failed. The surgery will reconstruct the tissues surrounding the kneecap so it won't be as likely to dislocate in the future.

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