A dislocated kneecap (called the patella) occurs when the patella is dislodged or slips out of place from the trochlea, a groove at the bottom of the femur. It most commonly occurs in active people younger than thirty, though it can affect anybody.

Kneecap Dislocation

Commonly called the kneecap, the patella is the small round bone that covers the front of the knee joint, effectively serving as a fulcrum. A dislocation of the patella results in severe pain, heavy swelling, and a greatly restricted range of motion in the affected knee. Often, people will describe seeing the knee cap protruding from the side of the knee. Some patients recover from a dislocation and never experience the condition again. For other patients, however, the patella will chronically dislocate until it is repaired through surgery.

Dislocated Kneecap Recovery & Treatment

Treatments for patellar dislocations will vary based on the chronicity and severity of the injury. As soon as the dislocation occurs for the first time, the affected knee should be rested, stabilized with a brace, and iced for ten to fifteen minutes each hour until swelling subsides. Elevating the leg can also provide some relief. Additional treatment will likely entail an intensive physical therapy program, though surgery may be necessary in more severe cases.

Knee Braces and Recovery Exercises for a Dislocated Kneecap

Many patellar dislocations can be effectively treated with physical therapy, particularly if the dislocation doesn't result in a chipping of the surrounding cartilage or bone. Any lasting pain or swelling will be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. A typical rehabilitation program entails five to six weeks of strengthening exercises designed to rebuild the muscles surrounding the patella and restore the range of motion. Most patients also wear a brace throughout recovery to ensure the knee's stability and prevent further dislocations.

Kneecap Dislocation Surgery Options

More severe and recurrent patellar dislocations may require surgery. After resetting the kneecap, an orthopedic surgeon will perform a short arthroscopic procedure to remove any dislodged pieces of bone and smooth down any damaged cartilage. Patients with recurrent patella dislocations may also need reconstructive surgery to re-align or repair the structures that are causing the dislocations. 

One of the most common surgical options entails the reconstruction of the medial patellofemoral ligament with a graft. The graft is harvested from the hamstring tendons or a cadaver donor and reattached to the femur bone and patella.
 This procedure can be performed arthroscopically, preventing damage to surrounding tissues and resulting in fewer complications. In the most serious cases, a surgeon may need to alter the structure of the surrounding bones or ligaments to stabilize the patella and prevent future dislocations.


As with any sports injury, the timeline for recovery from a patellar dislocation can vary widely. Most patients should recover completely in six to eight weeks, but more severe cases may require as many as three to four months to heal properly.


If you're experiencing heavy pain or swelling or have suffered a traumatic injury to the knee, you should contact an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible to discuss your symptoms and possible courses of treatment. At New York Bone and Joint, we've specialized in patellar dislocations and other knee injuries for almost twenty years, delivering attentive and empathetic care that ensures long-term recovery for our patients. 

After a quick physical examination and a series of X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, your specialist will identify the cause and extent of your condition and develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Call and schedule an appointment with our specialists today.


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