Are You at a High Risk of Suffering a Patellar Dislocation?

Physical Therapy

Athletes are more likely to suffer patellar dislocations — but understanding common risk factors can help you avoid this injury.

As one of the body’s workhorse joints, the knee is essential to a vast range of sports and activities. Since it does so much heavy lifting, however, it’s also susceptible to an array of injuries. One knee injury that can be particularly devastating to athletes is a patellar dislocation.

The patella (or kneecap) is a small but thick bone at the front of the knee joint that connects the muscles in the thigh to the tibia, the load-bearing bone of the lower leg. Patellar dislocations occur when the kneecap is dislodged from its place in the trochlea, a groove at the bottom of the femur. This injury can result in severe pain, a visibly deformed knee, swelling, and a limited range of motion.

Patellar dislocations can be debilitating, preventing patients from performing even basic tasks. Like other knee injuries, however, they can be easily treated — or even better, prevented.


Dislocations of the kneecap can affect anybody, but they occur most often in athletes, usually after sudden trauma such as an awkward landing, a hard tackle, or excessive rotation of the knee. This injury is particularly common in basketball, with the sport’s fast pace, regular jumping, and occasional physicality creating ample opportunity for dislocations. Indeed, basketball players account for 18.2% of all patellar dislocations. Soccer and football players are also at greater risk of suffering dislocations, with each of these sports producing 6.9% of total dislocations.

Patellar dislocations are severe, but they’re fairly uncommon, accounting for only 2% of all knee injuries. Patients who have previously dislocated their knee cap, however, are at a higher risk of sustaining the injury again, with about 30% of all patients suffering from future dislocations.



Treatments for patellar dislocations depend on the severity of the injury. Immediately after the dislocation, the affected knee should be placed in a brace, rested, and iced regularly until swelling subsides. If the surrounding cartilage and bone aren’t severely damaged, most patients can expect to regain a complete range of motion and successfully rehabilitate the knee after several weeks of physical therapy. Continuing with stretching and strengthening exercises after recovery will further protect the knee from future dislocations.

More serious patellar dislocations generally require surgery. During the procedure, your orthopedic surgeon will reset the kneecap, mend any damage to the bones and cartilage, and, if necessary, reconstruct the medial patellofemoral ligament to prevent future dislocations. Most patients can expect to recover after six to eight weeks of rest and physical therapy.

If you think you may have dislocated your kneecap, our team at New York Bone and Joint can help! With decades of combined experience in sports medicine, our orthopedic specialists can provide fully personalized service at every stage of treatment, from diagnosis to the final follow-up visit. Call us today to schedule a consultation!

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