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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  • 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.

  • Jill

    Hi Doctor, my knee dislocated as I was jogging for the ball during a volleyball game a day ago. I’m hypermobile and my knee would recessively dislocate since It first dislocated about 5 years ago. The first time it dislocated was the most painful, and there were loose bits floating around inside my knee(which I got surgically removed two years ago through a knee arthroscopy). My knee hasn’t dislocated in about two years and it would usually dislocate when I would twist/turn/slip. My left knee dislocated outwards and I was wondering if it’s normal for the right side of my left foot(around my big toe/knuckle) to be hurting? I can put some pressure on my leg and am able to limp around but I was also wondering whether I should use crutches or not. I’m in college right now, work part-time and play volleyball and I’m not sure how long I should rest my leg for. I went to the ER and the doctor there wasn’t very helpful and just told me to take it easy and told me to see my surgeon for a check up in two weeks and not go to work for a week.

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

      The ER advice sounds pretty good. However I’d go on and see your surgeon or regular doctor as soon as you can.

  • Erin

    Hi Doctor, ever since I was about 10 my kneecap would slip out of place for a second until I was 15-ish it came out completely, since I was camping in a rural area it took a good hour for the ambulance to get me and the doctors said my knee cap twisted over and then stood up, made it sound pretty bad. They put it back in place and I got physical therapy but since then it’s been coming out more than ever. Just yesterday it came out completely again, my sister who has the same knee problem was with me and told me she got hers back in place before by sitting up and slowly straightening her leg, I did this and it worked by my knee is pretty swollen and tender. My question is should I see a doctor or could I just do the same things they told me to do last time this happened? What are my options for surgery? The first time this happened I think it traumatized me and I’m really willing to do anything to prevent it from happening again. Thanks in advance

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

      If the kneecap continues to pop out despite PT and time, the only fix may be surgery.

  • Jasmine Marie

    Hi Doctor. I live in the US, with no access to health insurance. My knee popped out a few months ago, & I put it back. Once it healed, have been walking daily to help strengthen the muscles in my thigh. Now it’s hurting after I walk. What can I do at home to help myself, please? Thank you.

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

      Other than leg curls and extensions, and some occasional ibuprofen, not much. Sounds like it may be time to have it checked out.

      • Jasmine Marie

        Thank you. xx

  • B. L

    Hi Doctor, I’m 12 and today in gym I fell down and saw my left leg bone pop out, but it must have popped back because within a few minutes I could walk again. (But before that I was on ground with my friends looking over me and me trying not to make a sound) I didn’t go to the nurse since nothing felt wrong. I continued the rest of gym like usual. I didn’t even know that it was called dislocating a knee till now. Should I see someone? Thanks B.L

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

      If you’re having no pain it’s doubtful you seriously injured anything but, just to make sure, I’d check with the school nurse.

      • B. L

        Thanks Doctor, I did check with the nurse today and she told me to just go easy on it and that it might start swelling in a day or two. Thanks BL

  • sophia

    Hi doctor. I am 12 years old and i love to play basketball, volleyball, and soccer. When i kicked the ball about 8 months ago i heard a really big crack wit pain. I went and took an x ray wit ha doctor who didn’t know what he was saying and said “oh it is just a little swelling” I agreed for a moment but then th cracking kept on going when i bent my knee. After a couple 6 months i felt that the pain was getting worse so i found out i had a very good orthopedic neighbor. i went to his home and he said i dislocated it. He wants me to to physical therapy but i was wondering if there is any faster treatment then that for me to be able to play sports again? ( by the way i am a really fast runner and always run everyday

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

      First, it sounds like you should see that orthopedist, or another, in the office for a complete exam. In general, physical therapy is a great and efficient way to help healing.

  • Amy Robinson

    im so used to mine poping out, that i just give it a shove back in. however this time im not sure if its in the right place how can i be sure?

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

      All I would know is, if you can flex and extend the knee, it should be in place. Of course, x-rays are an option.

  • kayleigh mcintyre

    I was running yesterday and my leg twisted a certain way, it was very painful. Now I can’t straighten my leg now without pain, it is swelled a tiny bit but not much, it I put pressure on the inside of my knee it is sore also.
    I have dislocated my knee before.
    Have you got any recommendations for me to do or should I go to the hospital just to check or?..

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

      You could go to the hospital or to an urgent care clinic.