The knee is one of the largest joints in the body and also one of the most active. Even when you’re sitting down, you still use your knees. And if you play high-impact sports, you’re at greater risk of injuring your knees.
One of the most common types of knee injuries —especially in children and teens — is a dislocated kneecap, medically known as patellar dislocation. How can you tell if you’ve dislocated your knee cap? And what do you do to make it better?
David Lintner, MD — a sports-medicine expert — diagnoses and treats knee cap dislocation at Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Baytown and Houston, Texas. Here’s what you should know if your knee is painful or stiff.
How a dislocated kneecap looks and feels
The most obvious sign that you’ve dislocated your knee cap is if the knee bulges out to one side, making your knee look deformed. You may also feel the knee slide out of its groove when you bend or flex your knee.
Other signs and symptoms of patellar dislocation include a knee that:
- Pops when you bend or flex it
- Is painful on the side
- Is painful to use
- Buckles when you put weight on it
- Is stiff and swollen
- Looks misshapen or deformed
- Has trouble bending and flexing
- Seems like the kneecap is out of its “groove”
You or your child might also be afraid to run, jump, or do anything that would put stress on the knee.
What to do when you dislocate a kneecap
If you or your child experiences a dislocated kneecap that doesn’t immediately snap back into its groove, head to the emergency room. If it does slip back into its groove, contact us right away so Dr. Lintner can see you as soon as possible.
During his exam, Dr. Lintner evaluates your knee cap’s position, as well as your range of motion and degree of instability. He also orders an X-ray, MRI, or other imaging studies to take a closer look at the injuries inside of the knee.
How a sports medicine specialist treats dislocated kneecaps
Once Dr. Lintner diagnoses a dislocated kneecap, he customizes a treatment plan. If your dislocation is mild, and it’s the first one you’ve experienced, he may:
- Immobilize the knee with a brace for 3-4 weeks
- Give you crutches to take weight off the knee
- Assign you to a physical therapist to strengthen the knee
A first patellar dislocation puts you or your child at risk for subsequent dislocations. Approximately 20% of children and teens who dislocated a knee cap develop knee arthritis by the time they’re 20 years old. If Dr. Lintner believes your child is at risk for subsequent dislocations, he recommends a corrective procedure called patellar stabilization.
Depending on the reasons why the knee cap slid out of place, Dr. Lintner chooses from one of three types of stabilization procedures:
- Reconstruction or release of tight ligaments
- Realignment or reshaping of the patella
- Shaving or removing damaged bone or cartilage
Ideally, Dr. Lintner uses minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery to minimize trauma and speed up recovery time. Whichever technique he uses keeps the kneecap in its groove and minimizes the risk of future dislocations.
Recovery from knee cap dislocation
If you experienced a mild dislocation that only requires stabilization and physical therapy, you may be ready to use your knee again within a few weeks. If you require surgery, you must go through a recovery period that includes stabilization and rest and physical therapy to rehabilitate your knee. Full recovery may take up to eight months.
If you have a painful, stiff, or dislocated knee, contact our office nearest you in Houston, Texas, or Baytown, Texas, to schedule a consultation today.