The kneecap (patella) plays an important role in the smooth movement of your legs. It connects all the muscles in the thigh to the shinbone (tibia). Whenever you bend or straighten your leg, the kneecap is drawn up or down.
The lower end of the thighbone (femur) has a V-shaped notch (femoral groove) to accommodate the movement of the kneecap and, in a normal knee, the kneecap fits perfectly into the groove. But if that groove is uneven or too shallow, the kneecap could slide off, resulting in a partial or complete dislocation. All it would take is a sharp blow to the kneecap – like in a fall – to pop the kneecap out of place.
The orthopedic specialists at the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in San Antonio are experts at diagnosing and treating an unstable kneecap. Learn more about this injury below.
Symptoms of an Unstable Kneecap
If your knee buckles and no longer support your weight, or if the kneecap slips to the side, this is an indication that the kneecap is unstable. Other symptoms include pain and stiffness in the front of the knee that increases with activity, as well as swelling and a creaking or cracking sound when you move.
Diagnosing and Treating an Unstable Kneecap
Your doctor will need to determine if the bones are out of alignment. He will observe your knee as you walk or straighten and flex it. He will feel the area surrounding the kneecap and take X-rays to see how the kneecap fits into its groove.
If the kneecap is totally dislocated, your doctor can apply gentle force to put it back into place.
If the kneecap is only partially dislocated, your doctor may recommend a stabilizing brace as well as exercises to strengthen the leg muscles, both of which help keep the kneecap aligned. You should be able to return to your normal activities within one to three months.
If your kneecap continues to slip out of place, you may require surgery. Your doctor can realign or tighten the tendons designed to keep the kneecap in its place, or he can release tissues that are pulling the kneecap off track.
If you suspect you have an unstable kneecap, make an appointment with one of the doctors at the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. Call us today at (210) 692-7400 or you can request one online.