What to Do If You Dislocate Your Kneecap «

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What to Do If You Dislocate Your Kneecap

The kneecap is under that brown tendon.

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

A dislocated kneecap is another one of the multiple knee injuries you can get. And you won’t be going far until it’s fixed. It’s painful, most of the time there’s a lot of swelling, and your knee can’t straighten.

Obviously you have to get to a doctor as soon as you can to make sure nothing else is injured and to put it back in place. Often, the doctor will also drain some of the blood off that’s accumulated around it (which can ease the pain dramatically).

But if getting to a doctor is impossible, here are some things you can try.

Why You Shouldn’t Always Put It Back in Place

Treatment depends, to an extent, on what sort of injury we’re talking about. Beware of bad breaks.

Sometimes it just takes twisting wrong to dislocate the kneecap. Other times there’s an added bump to one side of the kneecap. (For instance, you hit the side of a table while you’re twisting, and the kneecap dislocates to the opposite side of where you hit it.)

When the dislocation comes from something like either one of those scenarios, you can pretty well assume you didn’t break anything. Maybe a there’s little crack in the kneecap or tibia (lower leg bone), but there’s no big break that’s going to dislocate too.

The more forceful the hit, the less you can assume there’s no broken bone. So if there’s been major trauma, just splint the knee in the position it feels best and get off of it (or use crutches). Then get to a doctor as soon as you can.

For those minor bumps and twists, it’s best to try to put the kneecap back in place right away (if you can’t get to a doctor) before more swelling sets in and makes it harder to do.

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How to Relocate a Dislocated Kneecap

Here’s how to put a dislocated kneecap back in place:

  1. If possible, ask someone to help. Your leg will need to flex and straighten, and it’s best to have someone do that for you. Straightening your leg on your own requires contracting the quadriceps muscle in your thigh. That tightens the tendon that connects to your kneecap. The tighter the tendon, the harder it is for the kneecap to move back into place.
  2. Flex your hip by sitting. If you’re lying down grab around your thigh and pull it toward you about 30 degrees or so. This relaxes your quadriceps muscle a bit, which loosens that tendon I mentioned in step 1. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the “Anatomy” section of my post on Osgood-Schlatter disease.)
  3. Have someone slowly straighten the knee while the hip is bent. Or do it yourself if no one is available. Apply gentle pressure to the side of the kneecap to try to tease it back in place.
  4. Go slowly. You can try several times, but never force it since you could break something or make an already broken bone much worse.

After the kneecap is back in place:

  1. Wrap it with an elastic bandage or use a knee brace. This does little or nothing to keep the kneecap in place, but moderate compression can keep the swelling down.
  2. Stay off of your injured leg if you can and apply ice packs, if available, for 10 minutes at a time intermittently. Use a cane or crutches.
  3. Get to a doctor as soon as possible for further evaluation to see what is torn or broken.
  4. Expect it may happen again—maybe not right away, but somewhere down the road. If it dislocates over and over again, you’re going to need surgery to keep that from happening.

Has anyone ever had a kneecap dislocate? Painful? Scary? How did you get it back in place? How’s it doing now?

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  • kayleycakes23

    Hi just wondering, I dislocated my patella? (Think I spelt it right) today after getting stood on by a horse during an accident. My knee cap went around to the inside but during the camotion it popped back in.. Its the first time this has happened,, had xray no breaks inside ligament that runs down the inside of leg has been damaged.. The doctor said rest an pain relief I have crutches as cannot weight bear at the moment,, ive read alot about strapping the knee up is this something I should do as doctor didnt mention this earlier?? And also no mention of physio which ive seen mentioned alot also… Is it worth going to gp for them to send me to physio or is it not needed nowadays? Any help would be great thanks :)

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Many times the knee is immobilized for a few weeks. PT is started sometime after that. Everyone is a little different. I’d get a gp to check it for a second opinion and follow up.

      • kayleycakes23

        OK thank you for confirming I didnt want to waste my GPS time by taking an un-neccessary app but il make a docs app in the morning… Thank you for your quick response

  • Auris Flown

    So I recently dislocated my knee and I was trying to relocate it myself but I couldnt, but before that, when It happened, I asked my parents what to do and they told me to do the step after relocating the knee back but if thats what they said but everyone else says I need to head to the ER or something, should I just call the ambulance, since it seems they wont listen to me and I really dont want my dislocated knee to get worse…as of writing this, it has been about 9 hours since I relocated it.

    I can still feel my leg, still feel the pulse, no numbness, no loss of muscle except that my leg is stil dislocated and I have pain when I put pressure on it. I cant bend my leg correctly because i feel that the bones are either hitting each other or something.

    my step brother lent me his crutches he doesnt use anymore but I would really appreciate if you could give me some tips or answers on what i should do because I can’t sleep like this…

    Thanks for listening to my issue.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      At this point, I suggest you see an orthopedist. After you dislocated your knee cap more than once, it’s likely to happen again. The orthopedist can check you, give you specific advice and treatment.

      • Auris Flown

        This is actually my first time dislocating my knee and it popped really hard that it was heard from a distance.

        • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH


  • Lauren Powell

    I dislocated my patella exactly 1 year ago. It was a dodgeball accident the patella didn’t automatically relocate so I went to the emergency room. I was immobilized for around 8 weeks. Which might have done more harm than good but I tore up some other ligaments, nothing big enough to require surgery but if I dislocate again I will. 1 year out and there has been a big improvement, the over all process took a very, very long time for me. with scar tissue still causing problems with deep bends. I am worried I will dislocate again. A couple months after this injury I dislocated my elbow, that healing process was much much faster and I regained full use and extension of the elbow. I’ll see what the future holds.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for sharing. I wish you the best.

  • shorty1619

    Hi I dislocated my knee a couple years ago on Mother’s Day got ran into by a person on a bike knee went into bike tire. I’ve been to therapy 4 times for knee it still pops and gives out. This Saturday I was outside walking and my knee gave out it didn’t come out of place this time and a year ago I moved an old car battery from garage and knee gave out. Will it continue to give out or dislocate again? What should I do?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Go back to the doctor and have it checked to make sure you didn’t tear anything when you did it. Knee caps do tend to dislocate again. It could be, though, you only knee more strengthening.

  • arjun morab

    Hi doc I had dislocated knee 46 days back( aprox 6 weeks ) I had done mri scan and everything is fine but there is slight effusion I can walk but it feels week and unstable and I can’t fully straighten while sitting and also my quadriceps muscles feel week too compared to other leg, my worry is still how many days it may take to heal so that I could feel no pain while walking or running is there any way to prevent it to happen again. Thank you

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      The recovery time can be weeks to months to never depending on the severity of injury to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Your doctor should give you a pretty good idea. In general it would be immobilized for 1-4 weeks then gradually start walking with a cane and possible brace. Physical therapy is a mainstay in recuperation and getting the muscles strong again.

  • David

    So my friend was trying to take me down by grabbing my legs from behind and my knee cap popped out of place and immediately I just hit it back in place, is that bad?

  • Claire

    Mine dislocates all the time and is currently dislocated. FUN, not. I am currently putting off the inevitable

    • Claire

      It just popped back in through minimal pain and straightening

      • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

        Sorry you’re having so much trouble. Yes, you should see a doctor before more harm is done.

  • Meat Sheeld

    I dislocated my knee a month and a half ago and got X-rays and had a small chip off of the patella. I’m now out of a brace at home and am doing physical therapy. When I walk without the brace I feel like one leg is longer than the other. Is this normal?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Possible it’s just the weakness of the muscles from using the brace or you’re walking with one leg slightly bent. Anyway I’d ask the therapist.

      • Meat Sheeld

        Also there is this spot on my kneecap where it feels like there is a bubble underneath the skin I can move it a tiny bit and it doesn’t hurt. What could this be?

        • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          Swelling? A cyst?

  • Rocky

    Hello, I am 36 years old and pretty active… I was playing basketball and running a fast break to the right side of the hoop, I hard stepped to the left and went to fade away for the shot and no contact at all… My left knee cap felt like it moved out of socket, and back in by the time I hit the floor. I’ve never had any type of serious injury… I iced it immediately and about 2 hours later I have zero swelling, some soreness at the outside of the knee but there’s no pain when my leg is bent, while sitting, I’ve walked already on it and the only thing that feels weird is I don’t feel coif dent straightening the leg when stepping, I haven’t tried any side movement as of yet… Is there a need to go to a Doctor or can a wait a couple days and see what happens? Any insight would be greatly appreciated!

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      It sounds to me like you’re really not having much trouble with it at this point. If that’s the case I see no problem with waiting. Of course that’s a general statement since I haven’t examined you but as long as you don’t do any activities that make it hurt, you’re usually ok. There reasons that come to mind that need immediate expert care (and it sounds like you don’t have them) would be a dislocation that’s not back in place, an injury or compression of a blood vessel that’s cutting off circulation, or an open fracture.

      • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH
        • Rocky

          Thank you for the additional links to read. The knee is quite a bit sore this morning. There’s little swelling if any but no discoloration below the knee (sounds like that’s a good thing!). Pain seems to be on the outside of knee and a little below the kneecap in front. Still haven’t fully straitened it when walking… When I am completely still laying down the only thing I feel is like the like my leg is tired, sorry best way I can explain it…. Thanks again!

  • Jenn

    Is this normal and how long before I recover

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You’re doctor should be the one you ask about that since it could be weeks, months, or never completely. Also ask about some physical therapy.