Patella dislocation

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Patella dislocation is an injury where the patella moves out of its normal position, usually at the outside of the knee. In some cases, the dislocation is only partial which is called subluxation.

The patella is positioned in front of the knee joint which slides upwards and downwards a groove known as the patellofemoral groove at the anterior of the thigh bone as the joint bends. The patella is also linked to the quadriceps muscle via the tendons and functions to increase the leverage from the muscle group when the knee is straightened.


  • Immediate knee pain at the time of injury
  • Possibility of swelling in the joint
  • Evident displacement of the kneecap
    Patella dislocation
    Immediate knee pain at the time of injury.

In some cases, the patella might briefly dislocate and later return to its normal position, but pain and swelling are usually present.

Management of patella dislocation

The RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) is used to manage a damaged joint. An ice pack is applied for 10-15 minutes every hour initially. The frequency of the applications is reduced to 2-3 times in a day once the symptoms settle.

The individual should take a break or rest from any sport and seek medical care. If an individual had one episode of patella dislocation, it is often prone to another one. A knee support is used to provide protection for the joint. There are also stabilizing braces that are specially designed to provide support to the patella.

Once the acute symptoms settle, a rehabilitation program aimed on restoring the strength of the knee is needed to prevent future injuries. The exercises should focus on the vastus medialis muscles within the interior of the quadriceps.

When to seek medical care

There are instances in which a patellar dislocation has symptoms that strikingly resemble an anterior cruciate ligament injury due to a perceivable pop or crack and a feeling that the joint is about to give away.

In such cases, the relief for the pain is achieved with anesthetic and repositioning of the patella if it has not been relocated yet. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen are usually prescribed to minimize the inflammation, pain and swelling.

There are also taping techniques that can provide support to the patella, particularly if the individual is required to stay mobile and if there is also the risk for future dislocation. An X-ray and/or arthroscopy are used to assess the extent of damage. Additionally, surgery might be required if there are loose bone fragments or other significant structural damage.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on patella dislocation is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage joint injuries by taking a standard first aid course with one of our training providers.

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