Patella (Kneecap) Dislocation or Subluxation, Reduced

Your kneecap (patella) is held in place by ligaments and tendons. The kneecap can slide to the side of the knee joint if it's hit with a strong force. This sliding is called dislocation (subluxation). In a dislocation, the kneecap moves farther away from its normal position.

Sometimes the kneecap will move back in place by itself. Otherwise, a healthcare provider will have to move it back into place (reduce it) for you. As a result of this injury, the ligaments and tendons around the kneecap are torn or stretched. It will take about 4 to 6 weeks or more for these tissues to heal. During this time, the knee must be protected to prevent another injury.

Once a patella dislocation or subluxation has occurred, it's more likely to happen again. This is because the tissues around the kneecap have been weakened. Wear a knee brace or padded shield when playing sports that have a high risk for knee injury. These sports include soccer, basketball, skateboarding, football, skiing, and snowboarding. These devices help support your knee and lower your risk for further injury. An important part of your treatment will be to start rehabilitation and strengthening exercises as soon as possible.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • You may be given a knee immobilizer. This will keep you from moving your knee for the first few weeks. Unless otherwise advised, you may take this device off to bathe and sleep. But wear it when you are out of bed, for the prescribed time. Your healthcare provider will often have you wear a knee brace (patellar restraining brace) after you are done with the immobilizer.

  • If you were not given a knee immobilizer, you can use an elastic tubular knee brace. This will give support while your knee heals. You can buy this kind of brace at pharmacies. Use crutches to help you walk, if they were prescribed.

  • Put an ice pack on the injured area. Do this for 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours the first day for pain relief. Keep using the ice pack 3 to 4 times a day for the next 2 days. Then use the ice pack as needed to ease pain and swelling. To make an ice pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. Wrap the bag in a clean, thin towel or cloth. Don’t put ice or an ice pack directly on the skin.

  • You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. If you have long-term (chronic) liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding.

  • Don’t take part in sports or physical education until your healthcare provider says it’s OK to do so. Limit your activities such as walking or bending if they cause pain.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

If X-rays were taken, a radiologist may look at them. You will be told of any new findings that may affect your care.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Knee pain or swelling gets worse

  • You can’t bend your knee because of pain or because the joint locks

  • Redness or warmth over the knee

  • Pus or fluid drains from any scrape on the knee

  • You can’t put weight on the injured leg because of pain

  • It feels like your knee is wobbly and might give out 

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