Patellar dislocation is a common and often painful injury.  The patella bone connects the muscles of the thigh to the front of the tibia, or lower leg. As the muscles work to aid in flexion and extension of the knee, the patella slides across a small groove, known as the femoral groove, or trochlea, on the thigh bone. When the patella does not slide smoothly through the groove, the patella is said to be unstable and is at an increased risk to dislocate.

patella tendon

Illustration 1- The quadriceps and patella tendons of the knee


Signs of a Patellar Dislocation

Forceful impact and falls are the main causes of patella dislocations, but with patients with a predisposition to dislocation a simple twisting of the knee may cause it. The key signs that a dislocation has occurred are:

  • Buckling of the knee
  • A loud popping sound
  • A visually deformed knee

A variety of symptoms present after a patellar dislocation.

Symptoms of a Patellar Dislocation

Symptoms always depend on the severity of the injury and the individual. Symptoms can include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Cracking or crunching when moving
  • Weakness

The key to effectively treating these symptoms is to first relocate the patella. This can occur naturally or might need to be done by and an orthopedic specialist. After relocation, a variety of treatment options are available.

Treatment Options for a Patellar Dislocation

Non-surgical treatment of patellar dislocations is always preferred. Some of the options an orthopedic specialist might prescribe are:

  1. Physical therapy. Strengthening the muscles of the leg help stabilize the patella—ensuring it slides perfectly through the femoral groove.


  1. A knee brace helps hold the knee in a perfect anatomical position. Because twisting, turning, and torquing movements are limited, the chances of dislocation decrease.


  1. Rest and activity modification. Sometimes, dislocations are caused by specific movements. Thus, activities in which these movements are performed may need to be stopped or modified.

When repetitive dislocation occur despite non-surgical treatment, the condition is deemed chronic and may need surgical intervention. Recurrent dislocations left untreated increases the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee.  During the surgical procedure, an orthopedic surgeon either realigns the patella or reconstructs the torn stabilizing ligament.  In some significant injuries both of these are performed. The most important aspect to this choice is seeking the opinion of an orthopedic surgeon who has extensive experience in these procedures. 

Seeking Treatment for a Patellar Dislocation

If you’re having patella dislocation problems, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our 5 Long Island offices. One of our orthopedic specialists will find out exactly what is causing your problem and come up with a solution that’s right for you. You should neither live with nor worry about your patella dislocating. The road to a full recovery starts when you walk through our doors.

The physicians at Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine focus on both the surgical and non-surgical treatment of bone and joint injuries.  Renowned experts Dr. Charles Ruotolo, Dr. Richard McCormack, Dr. Brett Spain and Dr. Paul Pipitone lead our Knee Team.   Fortunately, many patients can be treated non-surgically with a combination of conservative modalities coordinated by the Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Team. If surgery is necessary, the practice uses a multidisciplinary approach to create a treatment plan that focuses on the patient’s lifestyle and activities and helps them get back to those activities quickly and effectively.  When in the right hands, a full recovery is entirely possible.