Diagnosis and Treatment of Patella Dislocation in Wake County

What is Patella Dislocation?

Patella dislocation is a painful injury that occurs when the kneecap is dislodged from the knee joint. Under normal conditions, the patella sits in a vertical groove in the knee joint, called the trochlear groove. When a force is applied to the patella, such as from a fall or collision, the patella can become dislocated from its groove, causing tearing or stretching of the ligaments. Fortunately, patella dislocation is easy to fix and can even resolve on its own. Types of patella dislocation include: 

  • Congenital patella dislocation – a developmentally-caused patella dislocation in which the patella develops outside the trochlear groove
  • Acute patella dislocation – patella dislocation caused by force
  • Patella subluxation – partial dislocation of the patella, which is not as serious as complete dislocation

Causes of Patella Dislocation

Congenital patella dislocation, as the name suggests, is a developmental abnormality and is present from birth. Acute patella dislocation is caused by an external force. Examples of force that may cause acute patella dislocation include:

  • A bad step
  • A bad fall
  • A collision
  • A sudden twist of the knee while the foot is planted

Patella Dislocation Risk Factors

Risk factors for congenital patella dislocation are not fully understood, though there may be a genetic component. Risk factors for acute patella dislocation include playing sports in which athletes are required to pivot quickly, or in which athletes are in danger of collision injuries. Dancers are also at risk for these injuries. Groups of people at risk for patella dislocation include:

  • Athletes in high-impact sports
  • Dancers 
  • Teenagers who are still growing (while growing, teenagers’ ligaments are looser)
  • People with preexisting instability in the kneecap or who have dislocated their kneecap in the past
  • Women, due to wider hips putting increased lateral pressure on the knee joint

Symptoms of a Dislocated Kneecap

There are several symptoms that indicate a possible patella dislocation. If you notice any of the following, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with one of our knee specialists in Wake County:

  • Immediate swelling of the knee
  • Intense pain until the kneecap is put back in place
  • Instability of the joint
  • Bruising of the knee
  • Inability to walk
  • Visual deformity of the knee (kneecap visibly out of place)

How is Patella Dislocation Diagnosed?

Your doctor will listen to your symptoms, ask you how the injury occurred, and perform a physical examination. These steps are usually enough to make a dislocation diagnosis. Your doctor will also likely send you for imaging, such as an MRI, to check for injuries associated with the dislocation, such as torn ligaments or injuries to the cartilage. If your dislocation corrected itself prior to seeing a doctor, imaging tests can confirm that you suffered a dislocation as opposed to another injury.

Treatment Options for Patella Dislocation at Raleigh Orthopaedic

Nonsurgical Treatment

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Transient patella dislocations are dislocations that go back into place without intervention. If your patella does not go back into place on its own, your doctor will do it for you. This process of putting the kneecap back in place is called reduction. The sooner this is done, the better. It is done prior to imaging.

Surgical Treatment Options

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After your kneecap is back in the correct position, you may receive imaging to ensure there are no other serious issues that need surgical correction. You may need surgery if you continue to suffer from patella dislocations, if you have cartilage or other soft tissue damage along with the dislocation, or if you suffer from congenital patellar dislocation.

Patella Dislocation Recovery Time

Recovery from patella dislocation usually requires about six weeks to three months, depending on the severity of the injury. You will likely require a splint to support your knee for several weeks during your recovery, and you may need to use a crutch to help you walk. Physical therapy may also be required for a complete recovery.

How Can I Prevent Patella Dislocation?

Prevention of patella dislocation is difficult since it is caused by force injuries. However, there are some things you can do to lessen the likelihood that your patella will dislocate a second time:

  • Make sure to complete your rehabilitation, including all of your Physical Therapy
  • Strengthen the muscles around your knee so that it is as stable as possible. Exercises like cycling can help accomplish this.
  • Opt for surgical correction if you have a congenital issue that is causing your patella to dislocate.

Expert Knee Care at Raleigh Orthopaedic

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For over 100 years, we have served patients in Wake County and provided the highest level of orthopedic care. Whether you are an athlete or you have injured your knee while going about your daily activities, we are here to help you get back on track to positive orthopedic health. To schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists in Wake County, please give us a call or book your appointment online today.