If you’ve ever seen a dislocated kneecap, chances are it isn’t a sight that is easily forgotten. The image of someone writhing on the ground in agony can imprint deeply on a person. Just the thought of the kneecap coming loose and slipping to the side can make your stomach turn. And yet it is fairly common.
When a person is hit on the knee or falls on it, the kneecap can be knocked loose from its position. A loose, unstable, or dislocated kneecap is referred to as patellar (kneecap) instability.
Kneecap displacement is common during sports, and is far more common among younger patients than older ones.
There are some anatomical causes of patella instability such as a congenital defect where the groove the kneecap fits into is too shallow, or if the pelvis is wider than normal and forces the bones of the knee to meet at an increased angle. An irregular gait or structural abnormalities of the feet may also contribute to an unstable kneecap.
Patellar instability can create additional knee problems such as sprains (stretched or torn ligaments) or strains (stretched or torn muscle tissue).
Just as you might imagine, an unstable kneecap that becomes dislocated is extremely painful, and may be accompanied by bruising, swelling, and a noticeable deformity because the kneecap has slipped to out of place. Bending the knee may feel impossible and can further injure the knee.
Dislocation of the kneecap can reoccur. Patients often elect to have surgery to repair the knee after the first dislocation occurs because the condition is so painful that they do not want it to happen again. The surgery can be performed arthroscopically, which means your orthopedic surgeon will make a small incision and examine the area for the cause of the instability. Most often, a lateral release is performed, which involves cutting the lateral ligaments to return the kneecap to its normal position.
Outlook Following Dislocation
If a patient opts for surgical measures, the problem is normally fixed for good and patients do not need to fear it repeating. If a person has endured the condition and opted to forego surgery, there exists a high likelihood of future dislocations. If the first dislocation damaged other adjacent structures in the knee, an orthopedist will usually recommend surgery to replace the kneecap and repair the additional damage.
Steps can be taken to prevent a recurrence. These include:
- Engaging in exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the kneecap
- Maintaining a healthy weight to avoid putting additional pressure on the bones of the leg and knee
- Wearing a specially designed knee brace with a patella cup to hold the kneecap in place
If you or someone you know has a loose, unstable, or dislocated kneecap, get help for the condition before it gets worse, as which is a real possibility. In the San Antonio area, contact the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine by calling (210) 692-7400 or request an appointment. Don’t let patellar instability cause additional issues. If dislocation of your kneecap has occurred, there’s a high possibility of repeat dislocations.