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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  • 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.

  • Jenn

    Hey I dislocated my knee in May and im still getting twinges and as if it’s gonna give way i feel so fed up as I have a six year old and can’t mess about playin games and the usual mom things without pain please help as my mri came back ok

  • Madesen Clark

    Hi Doctor. I’m 18 and female with a bad knee. I recently did something to my knee, but neither me nor my mom can explain what.
    I had stood up rather quickly and felt a pop and it began to hurt, deep in the joint. Thing is, it’s dull, and doesn’t hurt very badly. Since then I haven’t been able to fully straighten it without the pain. And if I manage to get through the pain, it feels like the kneecap is moving, almost like it’s being twisted. This is the second time this has happened, the first time was in my freshman year of highschool.
    Is this a serious injury or is it something that I can just work out?

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

      If it’s not getting better, you should see a doctor.

  • amanda

    I dislocated my kneecap 10 days ago and it is still swollen. Is that bad?

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

      Sounds like you should have doctor check it.

  • Mr boris

    Hi doctor. I am a 13 year old male and i have had 2 dislocations (VERY painful) the first time it went out i had an ambulance come and pop it in. Then i had x-rays and it was fine. 1 year later it happened again. This time it took about 1 hour and 30 minutes for an ambulance to come. When they reached me it felt like there were multiple knife under my knee cap. They gave me morhen and anti orphadox (or something like that) and tried to pop it in twice but it wouldn’t co operate (i still felt pain). I ended up getting taken to hospital (by this time it had been 2 hours and 30 minutes) and the doctor there and 5 nurses all tried to pop it in. They straightened it. pulled it. pushed it. And it wouldnt move. Every time the did something i would scream so loud in pain and black out then wake up again (by this time i had gone trough 4 canister of anti orphadox. The yput me to sleep and all pushed pulled straightened at the same time. Finally it went back into place. after It swelled to more then triple the size and pain followed after. 3 months later (now) i excersise, wear a brace and am very scared of it. I am not sure that if it happens again that i sould pop it in my self ot not. What do you think????

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

      Get your doctor’s advice. If you haven’t seen one since you left the hospital, you should. Sometimes physical therapy can help. Sometimes, if it keeps doing it, you might need surgery.

  • Frances Gayle Ello

    Hey doctor. My knee was dislocated a few weeks back. I can walk ok but my walking seems like I still have a pained knee even though i don’t anymore. I tried straightening my walking but it’s no use. Also I can’t climb up the stairs with both feet smoothly. I always use my uninjured feet to walk but it’s getting hard for me. I still can’t do my schools events and I don’t know what to do. I also had it checked but my doctor said my bones were alright and I should not worry about a thing.

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

      Ask your doctor about getting a few physical therapy treatments or get a second opinion from another doctor.

  • Vanessa

    Hi doctor, I am 16 and my knee has dislocated too many times for me to count, and I’ve been to the hospital twice and the issue is that i have a shallow trochlear groove, and both times they sent me to physical therapy. Yesterday I dislocated it again and it just doesn’t feel right and I am unable to bend it completely, unlike all the other times. My knee cap usually relocates on its own very soon after the dislocation. Did the knee cap not relocate completely? How do I know if it has relocated? Should I try and walk on it and bend it all the way?

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

      Sound likes you should have it checked. A good clue it’s in place is if you can straighten it out, or almost, bend it back at least close to 90 degrees. In general someone with a dislocation can barely bend it at all.

  • ANNA

    When I was very young, about five, I dislocated my knee, being a shy kid I limped my way through the rest of the day hoping no one paved to much attention to me. I got home and told my father, who had apparently also had trouble with knees, it was relocated. And soon forgotten. Ever since I have had sudden dislocation about many times. I dislocated my knee about a month ago, then I dislocated it Friday, and now, two days after, I have dislocated it again. My first few times I had to have it relocated. I was stubborn and would only trust my dad to do it. Now it will relocate on its own, but it really hurts. I’m thirteen now, this has been going on for about eight years. I’ve only talked to a doctor once about it, she gave me crutches for a bit. But it’s getting worse, and I don’t know what to do, I would greatly appreciate your advice.


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

      Sometimes physical therapy will help but most of the time with recurrent dislocations, surgery has to be done.

  • Anchit

    My kneee cap dislocated i got plastered i cam straighten my leg full but i want to know that when i run or walk fast my knee starts paining and also it jerk sometimes and some kind of cracking voice comes from it what should i do i want to run like earlier please suggest ?”

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

      You should talk to your doctor before you start running or walking fast.