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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  • 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.

  • vincent hopson

    hey doc…this is a recent post…i hope you still read these…..saterday afternoon i had a beer before leaving to see the wwe event here in las vegas. i went to the mail room first to pick up the mail before going out to catch the bus…i dropped a peice of mail i bent over to get it and my leg snapped in the wrong direction…lucky me there was someone there to help me…a neighbour helped me take the pressure off of it and it popped back in place. this really hurts and im planning on going to the hospital but i dont want to be stuck with a big dumb bill…then again i dont want my leg to get worse…its really swollen and feels like its not all the way in place…plus theres a sharp pain in my thigh when i bend it…..any ideas….

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

      You could probably save a lot of money by getting checked by your regular doctor or going to an urgent care/minor emergency clinic.

  • Alin Papariga

    so i just dislocated my kneecap and im afraid i might not be able to lift heavy again and that the knee might pop and freak everyone out … i dont know what to expect form this recovery
    im 16y 180cm 72kg athletic (as how you can see from the picture ) will this thing pop any time ? can a full recovery without the risk of the kneecap to pop ? can i walk/jump again in 2-2,5 weeks without any risk?

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

      What happens in the future depends on how much damage to the surrounding tendons and ligament was done and also allowing the tissues to heal. Your examining doctor can give you a better idea and ways to make sure you recover fully. Usually it takes longer than a couple of weeks.

      • Alin Papariga

        thank you for the fast response

  • Miller Cats

    I dislocated my knee Friday and when the ambulance came they put this medicine in me and when I tried to move my leg it popped back in by it’s self and now after 3 or 4 days I’m trying to walk with my knee brace on but not put a lot of weight on it, is this okay? Or should I not do this?

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

      I’ll assume you mean knee cap and not your actual knee. I suggest you see a doctor and have it checked out for specifics on your particular injury. In general, the recommendation is to use crutches for a week or 2 gradually adding more weight as tolerated.

  • Alicia Jansen

    ok this is weird as i have dislocated my knee heaps, but three times that it wouldnt just go back in the last time it happened it was so painful the ambos and hospital knocked me out almost completely then when they tried to put it in i still screamed in pain, but once it was in felt nothing nothing at all it didnt swell there where no breaks chips nothing i was sore the next day but could put prussure and bend the knee straight away????? Thats not normal is it?

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

      Have you seen an orthopedist for a good check up of why this is happening and what can be done to prevent. it?

      • Alicia Jansen

        I have it because the outside mussel is much much stronger than the inside they said that even if they were to surgically fix it it could cause other problems so just strengthing. But no one can tell me why there has been no swelling, pain but nothing like the other times and I can bend it??

        • Vera

          I have experienced the same thing,just this Saturday. Not my first time to dislocate it but the first time that the pain was unbearable while it was dislocated and wouldn’t go back and had to be taken to the hospital for a doctor to put it back. I wondered too why there was no swelling and pain afterwards. Should I be alarmed? The doctor said the same thing that the muscle that’s supposed to hold the patella is weak.

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

            In general, the more times you dislocate it, the more it becomes at risk to happen again. Strengthening the muscles with help from a physical therapist is usually a first step. Sometimes surgery to tighten or repair tendons is necessary. I’m not sure why it didn’t hurt or swell afterwards. I suppose if the tissue around it was not too severely injured during the dislocation that would be a reason.

  • Brittany

    I had this happen. A good physical therapist can evaluate the leg structure and strengthen the surrounding muscles so that it won’t happen again. It’s apparently pretty common to have an imbalance in the leg muscles. If you catch it early enough, then you can avoid surgery.

  • Megan Baumann

    3 weeks ago I was getting into my car which was parked on a hill as I got in I slipped in mud into my car and my leg went one way and my knee went the other and it popped right out of place which hurt really bad. I popped it right back in but I couldn’t walk on it at all for about 3 days then I put a knee brace on it and I can walk on it but now lately it pops out daily multiple times and makes me fall with the knee brace on and it hurts worse. I cannot put much weight on it nor can I straighten my leg out. I have not seen a doctor either because I thought I’d be fine after a week or so, I thought wrong. Should I go and will I need surgery since it pops out daily?

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

      Yes, you should go to the doctor who will check you and customize your treatment. It could be a splint, crutches, physical therapy, or something else. With time, if you don’t get better, it could include an option of surgery.

  • Megan

    3 weeks ago I was getting into my car which was parked on a hill as I got in I slipped in mud into my car and my leg went one way and my knee went the other and it popped right out of place which hurt really bad. I popped it right back in but I couldn’t walk on it at all for about 3 days then I put a knee brace on it and I can walk on it but now lately it pops out daily multiple times and makes me fall with the knee brace on and it hurts worse. I cannot put much weight on it nor can I straighten my leg out. I have not seen a doctor either because I thought I’d be fine after a week or so, I thought wrong. Should I go and will I need surgery since it pops out daily?

  • Jane

    Hi Doctor. My 15 yo old daughter dislocated her patella 3 days ago playing netball. At the time of dislocation she suffered severe pain through her back and neck. Is back and neck pain common with this type of injury? Paramedics were not too concerned. No x-ray was undertaken. Should I seek an x-ray to rule out any other issues?
    Thank you for your help

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

      Jane, she should see a doctor for a good exam and possible Xray, and to suggest how long to keep on the brace, how much activity should be done and when, and exercises (maybe physical therapy) to build the muscles back up and, hopefully, keep her from doing it again. Neck and back pain are not usually part of a dislocated patella unless the same injury that caused the dislocation injured those areas also. So, if those areas are still bothering her, they should be checked as well.

  • Kaitlyn

    Hi Doctor,
    I am almost positive I dislocated my knee cap this morning and it popped back into place right away, but I’m scared to go to the hospital. Is it true they will try and drain blood from the knee? I’ve been icing for 15 minutes on/off since this morning and still can’t move it, should I be going to the hospital?

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

      The type of treatment would depend on their exam. I’m sure some knees that are swollen from blood may need to be drained but I’ve never had to drain one. An option from the hospital is an urgent care clinic.