Patella Dislocation

What is a Patella Dislocation?

patella dislocation

Patella Dislocation

In a normal knee, your patella is positioned within a groove at the bottom of the femur (thigh bone).

Patella dislocation refers to when the kneecap is completely displaced out of its normal alignment. The most common direction for a patella to dislocate is outwardly (laterally). When this happens, the muscles and ligaments on the inside of the knee become overstretched and damaged.  

Patella subluxation refers to when the kneecap is partially displaced out of its normal position.

What Causes Patella Dislocation?

Dislocation of the patella is primarily caused by a traumatic incident (often twisting or a direct blow) to the knee.

However, there are a variety of factors which can predispose you to dislocate your patella. These include:

  • History of patella dislocation or subluxation
  • Patellofemoral joint hyperlaxity or maltracking
  • Shallow femoral groove 
  • Weak inner quadriceps muscles
  • Tight lateral retinaculum, ITB, hip flexors, vastus lateralis and biceps femoris muscles. 

Patella dislocation is most common in athletic teenagers. Pivoting your femur (thigh bone) internally on a planted foot while bending your knee if the most common dislocating movement. (Greiwe et al 2010)

What are the Symptoms of Patella Dislocation?

  • Patients with a dislocated patella will report that “my kneecap slipped out of place”. It may self-relocate, otherwise, a health professional may need to relocate your patella. 
  • Visible translation of the kneecap (often to the outside of the knee).
  • Pain, particularly with weight-bearing activities and active straightening of the knee. 
  • Swelling and a wobbly kneecap.
  • Tenderness around your kneecap.
  • Feeling of instability or giving way during weight bearing. 
  • A weakness of the quadriceps muscles. 

How is Patella Dislocation Diagnosed?

On examination, your physiotherapist or doctor will look for signs of patella dislocation and associated muscle and ligament damage.

An X-ray, ultrasound or MRI may also be used to confirm the diagnosis and identify damaged structures surrounding the kneecap or to the patella joint surface, which is quite common.

What is the Treatment for Patella Dislocation?

Patella Relocation

The initial treatment will involve relocating the patella, which should only be done by a health professional if it did not occur spontaneously.


Most patients with patella dislocation start to feel better within a few hours of the relocation. However, your rehabilitation will take at least 8 to 12 weeks to successfully rehabilitate and decrease your chance of a recurrent dislocation.

Your physiotherapy treatment will aim to:

  • Reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Protect the patella via taping or a patella alignment brace. eg patella brace
  • Normalise joint range of motion.
  • Strengthen your knee: esp quadriceps (esp VMO).
  • Strengthen your lower limb: calves, hip and pelvis muscles.
  • Improve patellofemoral (knee cap) alignment.
  • Normalise your muscle and retinaculum lengths.
  • Improve your proprioception, agility and balance.
  • Improve your knee motion technique and function eg walking, running, squatting, hopping and landing.
  • Minimise your chance of re-dislocation.


The majority of patients with patellar dislocation will respond well to conservative treatment. Nikku et al 2005 compared post-surgical repair and exercise treated patients at 7 years follow up with no significant functional difference.

In some cases, however, surgery may be required to repair significant bone (eg patella joint surface) or ligament damage caused as a result of the dislocation. An MRI is recommended to determine whether chondral (joint surface) damage has occurred. 

Post-Surgical Rehabilitation

Post-operative knee rehabilitation is one of the most important, yet too often neglected, aspects of post-dislocation surgery. It is important to rebuild your muscles and function to avoid future dislocations.

The most successful and quickest outcomes result from the guidance and supervision of an experienced Sports Physiotherapist.

Your rehabilitation following knee surgery focuses on restoring full knee motion, strength, power and endurance. You'll also require balance, proprioception and agility retraining that is individualised towards your specific sporting or functional needs. 

Your sports physiotherapist is an expert in this field. We suggest you contact them for the best advice in your circumstances.

How to Prevent Recurrent Patella Dislocations?

Following an initial patella dislocation, the risk of recurrence is almost 50% if no (or insufficient) rehabilitation is received. The risk of re-injury increases substantially each time the patella is dislocated.

For this reason, it is very important to discuss your injury with your physiotherapist. They will advise you on the best treatment plan for you, and ensure that you receive adequate rehabilitation to greatly decrease your risk of ongoing knee problems. 

Return to Sport with Patella Dislocations?

Athletes often have particular difficulty once they have sustained a patella dislocation. This is primarily due to the increased instability around the kneecap, as well as residual weakness and balance as a result of the injury. Your physiotherapist will design an individualised exercise program to help you return to your previous level of function. 

For more information, please ask the advice of your physiotherapist.

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Helpful Products for Patella Dislocation

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral Brace

An effective patellofemoral brace can be useful as an alternative to kneecap taping.

ITB Roller

Excellent for stretching your tight thigh structures: ITB, quadriceps and hamstrings.

foam roller

Knee Pain

Common Causes

knee pain

Knee Ligament Injuries

Knee Meniscus

Knee Tendonitis

Muscle Injuries

Children's Knee Conditions

Other Knee-Related Conditions

Knee Surgery

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Patella Dislocation Treatment Options

  • Early Injury Treatment
  • Avoid the HARM Factors
  • Soft Tissue Injury? What are the Healing Phases?
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Sub-Acute Soft Tissue Injury Treatment
  • Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises
  • Active Foot Posture Correction Exercises
  • Gait Analysis
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Balance Enhancement Exercises
  • Proprioception & Balance Exercises
  • Agility & Sport-Specific Exercises
  • Medications?
  • Orthotics
  • Real Time Ultrasound Physiotherapy
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Brace or Support
  • Dry Needling
  • Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
  • Heat Packs
  • Joint Mobilisation Techniques
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Prehabilitation
  • Running Analysis
  • Strength Exercises
  • Stretching Exercises
  • Supportive Taping & Strapping
  • TENS Machine
  • Video Analysis
  • Yoga
  • FAQs about Patella Dislocation

  • Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques
  • What is Pain?
  • Physiotherapy & Exercise
  • When Should Diagnostic Tests Be Performed?
  • Massage Styles and their Benefits
  • What Causes Post-Exercise Muscular Pain?
  • Barefoot Running: Your MUST READ Guide to the Pro's and Con's.
  • Can Kinesiology Taping Reduce Your Swelling and Bruising?
  • Heat Packs. Why Does Heat Feel So Good?
  • How Can You Prevent a Future Leg Injury?
  • How Much Treatment Will You Need?
  • Post-Run Soreness: Should You Be Concerned?
  • Runners: How to Reduce Your Knee Stress
  • Sports Injury? What to do? When?
  • What are the Common Massage Therapy Techniques?
  • What are the Early Warning Signs of an Injury?
  • What Can You Do To Help Arthritis?
  • What is a TENS Machine?
  • What is Chronic Pain?
  • What is Nerve Pain?
  • What is Sports Physiotherapy?
  • What's the Benefit of Stretching Exercises?
  • When Can You Return to Sport?
  • Why Kinesiology Tape Helps Reduce Swelling and Bruising Quicker
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    Last updated 26-Sep-2019 11:47 AM

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