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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  • Natalie goodman

    I have a problem with both my knees I don’t know what it is but only my left one hurts when I bend my knee (this happens with both knees) on my left leg the left side of my knee swells and it hurts to press on it on the right side the same thing only it’s the right side that swells what is wrong and why am I having such savvier pain in only one of my knees the pain is all the time not only when I bend it

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

      Natalie, there are all sorts of things that could be causing knee pain and swelling. You should have a doctor check it out.

      • Natalie goodman

        What if my dad won listen to me and when I tell him
        His response is then don’t bend it or walk if it hurts?

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

          I’d tell him anyway. And perhaps check with the school nurse, or a coach or trainer.

          • Natalie

            Sorry to big you again but I did talk to a coach one time and he thought t looked like fluid build up to him what would this me in means of fixing it and will I still be able to walk or will I have to be on crouches or somthing for a while?

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

            Natalie, there is no what to predict any of that until you find the cause. The cause could be anything from inflammation and over use, to arthritis, to sprains, etc.

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

    Dipu, if you haven’t, you should see the surgeon again or seek a second opinion. Also physical therapy might help a lot.

  • Sean

    Hi doctor, my brother and I were rough housing and eventually I let him go. However while he was getting up he pushed down on my knee and it popped outwards. It sort of popped back but now I can’t extend my leg. What do I do?

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

      Sean, you should have someone check it out.

  • Alyssa

    Hey doctor, I do taekwondo and during a kick my foot didn’t pivot but my too half of my leg did causing me to dislocate my knee and after the MRI I found out a lot of the tissues were torn and partial ACL tear but no surgery needed. I am in a brace and it’s been three weeks and it’s still swollen? They said I had a lot of blood and fluid but I figured it would at least look like a knee by now but it doesn’t. It makes me nervous bc I can not see my knee due to the swelling and I don’t know if it’s set in place right. It popped back in on its own after the pivot so the doctors didn’t see a fracture or anything just some bone bruising but is the swelling still suppose to be there this long after? And the X-ray would have shouldn’t if my knee cap wasn’t in the right place?

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

      Alyssa, the X-ray should have shown if the knee cap was out of place, yes. But, also, you should be following up with a doctor to make sure the injury is coming along as expected.

  • Brenda

    Hi Doctor, my knee has popped 2 times in total. The first time was 2 years ago when I was playing volley ball. I bent my knees to bump the ball up and that’s when I lost my balance because my knee popped. On my own i placed the knee cap back in its place, I had no swelling and just a little bit of pain I was fine. Then in October of 2013 I came out of the gym and I bent down to tie my shoe and again my knee popped and lost balance. This time I had a lot of pain and my knee got really swollen. It took about 2 weeks for the swelling to go down. Ever since that second accident Im always scared my knee will pop again I feel like if Im playing during p.e at school it will pop again. I got an MRI and it says that everything seems fine just that my knee cap it a little out of place but its not something to worry about. I don’t know how to put my knee cap back to place or what to do because I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable with my knee. Do you think using a knee brace will help or therapy?

  • Anonymous

    Hi doctor, I hope you look at this :). Yesterday I was hopping around my bedroom (I was very bored) and suddenly I fell with my leg bent in an upside down V position and the kneecap ha slipped and was facing to the left. I had to get my mum to come and help me push the kneecap back to normal and get onto my bed, and I’ve been lying in my bed with some water + tablets (ibuprofen, paracetamol etc) since then. I don’t know what to do since my mum doesn’t really like going to the doctors (I don’t know why) and I’ve got school in two days and its always really hard to get up and down the stairs or through the corridors without getting pushed, plus it normally takes me about 30 minutes to walk to school which seems to long to walk for on a sore knee. I think I’ve got some kind of hypermobile patella so my kneecaps both move very easily. Please help, by the way my names Kyle and I’m 14 years old (dont know if that affects anything)!

  • Fizah

    Hi I popped my knee out of place when I was laying down the pain was so bad I started screaming and crying after a min or two it popped back in place there was no swelling so I was sure I’d be fine after a day well that’s not the case it still hurts to move it not very strong pain but still a very little pain but I have school tomorrow and I wanna know if I should do any home remedies I’ll try anything ! Please reply ASAP

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

      See the end of my post about what to do after it’s back into place. Put only as much weight that doesn’t hurt on that leg and as long as it takes to heal.

  • mac

    Hi, I dislocated my right kneecap for the second time 4 weeks ago, I really don’t want to go through that painful experience again as it also happened to the other knee and eventually I had an op, everything was “tightened up” and it has worked perfectly since then. My question I have been told I have to wait a couple of months to have the op due to soft tissue damage?? would this be normal or are they just delaying it due to an overstreched health system??

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

      Mac, they’re wanting the bruising and swelling to go away so they can do the surgery as well as possible.

  • ryan

    what is wrong with my knees? when i move them they make a crunching/cracking sound. when my knees are bent is very easy for something to pop out of place.sometimes something pops out of place it always feels like all my bones are crunching together but my knee always goes back into place i think when i straiten my leg but my knee hurts after and swells up it usually heals after around 2 weeks. my knee caps stick out far on average whats popping out of place?

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

      All sorts of things could cause your symptoms. Is something popping out of place or just feels like it? Could be tendons popping, partially torn cartilage. You need to be checked by a doctor to find the proper cause and proper treatment, meds, exercises, etc., tailored to the cause.

  • Daryl

    Hi! In August, I was practicing cheer on a trampoline with innertubes stacked on top of each other and the tubes slipped and one pushed my knee cap out of place. It went right back in immediately. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life but I had tumbling practice right after so I never said anything except to my parents. They just ignored it. 2 weeks later I was at a water park and I went to get up off a ride and it moved itself out of place and stayed there for a few seconds and then went back in. It was sore for just about a day but I still never told anyone. I just went on doing sports, but my knee has never been the same. I felt some pain a while before my knee popped out the second time. A few days ago, I felt that pain again. So after cheer I went to the school athletic trainer and he said that my knee cap was loose and I should see an orthopedist. But it seems normal to me because I’m used to the feeling of it being out of place. What do you think?

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

      Sounds like you should definitely see an orthopedist.

      • Daryl

        okay thank you