Your kneecap, also known as a patella, is a disc-shaped bone that slides back and forth in the center of your knee each time you bend or flex your leg at the knee. It is attached to your thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia) with tendons.
When your patella slips or gets knocked out of its groove, your knee can feel unstable, as if the bones are slipping out of place. That is exactly what happened! After you dislocate your patella just once, you’re at risk for more dislocations and knee arthritis, too.
David Lintner, MD — a sports medicine specialist — treats patellar instability and kneecap dislocation at Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in both Baytown and Houston, Texas. If physical therapy doesn’t work, he may recommend patellar stabilization to keep your kneecap in place and preserve your knee’s stability, flexibility and health.
How your kneecap slipped
If you’re an athlete — whether pro, school, or weekend warrior — you can dislocate your knee cap if you get hit in the knee, fall on your knee, twist it, or stop short while running. Some people’s knees are built in a way that makes them susceptible to this problem. You or your child may be susceptible to patellar dislocation even without experiencing an injury if you:
- Are female
- Have loose tendons
- Have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Down syndrome, or other medical condition
- Are in your teens or 20s
You may also have been born with a shallow femoral groove so that your knee cap easily slips out of joint.
What happens when your kneecap slips
When your patella dislocates or slips, you may tear or injure the supporting tendons or ligaments. The patella can also injure nearby soft tissues in the knee joint — including the cartilage — or chip a bone.
Even if your kneecap pops back into place, the temporary dislocation could injure surrounding tissues. Broken bits of cartilage, bone, and tendons can trigger inflammation, swelling, and stiffness.
Patellar dislocation can be treated
If you or your child has a kneecap that feels unstable, Dr. Lintner examines and evaluates its range of motion. He then conducts imaging tests, such as X-rays, to find out which tissues are involved in the injury and to determine if you have loose particles of bone or soft-tissues in your knee joint.
Whenever possible, Dr. Lintner recommends supportive therapies and lifestyle changes to help you heal. If this is your first dislocation and you have no complications or damaged bone, ligaments, or tendons, he may recommend:
- Resting your knee
- Undergoing physical therapy
If you have complications or experience chronic kneecap dislocations, Dr. Lintner may recommend a minimally invasive surgery called patellar stabilization.
Why a stable knee is important
An unstable knee joint puts you or your child at risk for chronic pain, chronic dislocations, and arthritis. In fact, about half of girls and boys who experience patellar dislocation in childhood develop knee arthritis by the age of 25.
In most cases, Dr. Lintner performs patellar stabilization with arthroscopic surgery, which is a minimally invasive surgery that utilizes small incisions. Arthroscopic surgery causes less trauma and bleeding than traditional open surgery, speeding your recovery. SOmetimes, though, the ligaments need rebuilding. This is done with very short incisions.
After a recovery period of 3-4 months, you can return to most of your normal activities. Dr. Lintner also recommends physical therapy to strengthen your knee and to keep it limber. If you’re an athlete, he may advise modifications to the way you move or work out to protect your knee cap from undue stress.
Find out if patellar stabilization is right for your knee pain by scheduling a consultation at our office nearest you today in Houston or Baytown, Texas.