A knee or patella dislocation initially makes itself known by pain, swelling and stiffness. The person might also hear a creaking sound when they try to move their knee, and if the dislocation is very bad, they may hear a “pop,” and the kneecap may actually slide to the side and cause the leg to collapse. Fortunately, a dislocated knee can almost always be treated without surgery.
What Causes a Dislocated Knee?
Dislocated knees are common in sports where a person needs to run, jump and kick, such as football. These activities can stress the kneecap and cause it to dislocate from the groove in the femur where it’s normally found. Sometimes the tendons and the ligaments that hold the kneecap fail, which causes it to pop out or shift outward or to the side. Usually, the physician can make a diagnosis of a dislocated kneecap just from a physical examination, but they might order an MRI or X-ray to find the exact location of the kneecap and to see whether or not any supporting tissue has been damaged.
Knee Dislocation Treatment
A person who feels that their knee has been injured should leave the field at once, call a physician and apply the RICE procedure. This means to rest the knee, apply ice bags to the knee, compress the area and elevate it.
If the physician determines that the kneecap has been dislocated, they may relocate it if it doesn’t relocate itself. They may also place the knee in an extension splint to keep it immobile. The patient wears this for about two to three weeks. They also use crutches for this period of time. The doctor may also prescribe an analgesic for any knee pain.
After the initial symptoms, the doctor may remove the extension splint and put it in a regular splint which stabilises it while allowing some movement. The patient is also referred to a physical therapist, who may have them perform exercises to strengthen the area around the knee and/or apply an electrical muscle stimulator to support the muscles around the knee, including the quadriceps and calf muscles. The patient also begins:
• Exercises to strengthen the gluteal muscles
• Knee bends
• Weight bearing exercises
• Trying to walk without a limp
• Straight leg raises
• Swimming or walking in a pool
Surgery is an option if these exercises do not work, and the kneecap is still unstable. Surgery is done to repair the tendons or ligaments in the knee. After surgery, the doctor sends the patient back to a physical therapist for rehabilitation.
A patella dislocation can be a scary injury, but it usually resolves without surgery. Indeed, in some cases the knee pops back into the femoral trocheal groove without too much effort. With treatment, the person may be back to playing sports within four to six weeks.