Recovery Time for a Dislocated Patella?


What is a Dislocated Patella?


In a normal knee, the patella is positioned inside a groove at the bottom of the femur. A dislocated patella occurs when the kneecap is completely displaced from its normal alignment/position. The most common direction for a dislocated patella is lateral or towards the outside of the knee. When this happens, the muscles and ligaments on the inside of the knee become overstretched and damaged. A dislocated kneecap is primarily caused by a traumatic incident such as twisting or a direct blow to the knee area. 

Watch this VIDEO for more information on the Patella.

Patella tendon dislocation also known as kneecap dislocationWhat is the recovery time for a Dislocated Patella?


There are a variety of factors that can make you more susceptible for a dislocation::  
•History of patella dislocation or subluxation.
•Patellofemoral joint hyperlaxity or mal-tracking.
Weak inner quadriceps muscles.
•Tight IT band and hip flexors.  


Dislocated patella’s are in injury that should be taken seriously by a person even if they are not in much pain.  This is due to the possibility of injury to other structures as well as re-dislocation if a person is not treated appropriately.


Can You Walk After a Dislocated Patella?


Sometimes your knee cap will go back into place on its own, but it may also need to be relocated by a medical professional. Once the patella is back into its groove, it is possible to walk on that leg, but people often report a popping or unstable feeling in their knee.  It is recommended to see an orthopedic physician before returning to daily activities as other structures of the knee may be damaged.  Most physicians typically recommend a period of a few days of non-weight bearing and a patellar brace to allow the inflammation to resolve and healing to begin.


Can You Drive After a Dislocated Patella?


The period of time that a person has to wait before driving after a dislocated patella can differ depending on a variety of factors such as:

  • Was surgery required?
  • Is the car a manual or automatic transmission?
  • Which leg was involved?
  • Are you on pain medications?

Typically a person can drive within the first couple of weeks after injury but is dependent on the physician.


Is a Dislocated Patella Painful?


Pain is subjective to each individual, but most patellar dislocations can cause a moderate amount of pain.  The most painful part of the dislocation is the time when the patella is dislocated out of its normal alignment. This pain is dramatically decreased once the leg is straightened.  This than allows the patella to return to its normal alignment. The injury itself causes inflammation with the knee joint and the VMO muscle.  Most likely a physician will prescribe anti-inflammatories and/or pain medication to help during recovery.


What is the Fastest Way to Recover from a Dislocated Patella?


The fastest way to recover from a dislocated knee cap and return to everyday life is to see a physician as soon as possible to begin the recovery process.  The typical time frame for recovery is 4-6 weeks (or more if the damage to other structures is significant).

The fastest way to recover is to get your VMO and quad strength back as soon as possible.  This can be aided by adding in stretching of the hamstrings and IT Band as well. 


What is Recovery Time from a Dislocated Patella


The quick answer, during the first few days, you can help reduce swelling by keeping your leg elevated when sitting and holding an ice pack to your knee for 10 to 15 minutes every few hours.


If you are attending physical therapy, your physical therapist will teach you some exercises to do at home to improve the muscles that stabilize your kneecap and improve your knee's movement. It usually takes about six weeks to fully recover from a dislocated patella, although sometimes it can take longer to return to sports or other strenuous activities. Ask your MD or consult with your physical therapist/athletic trainer for advice about returning to your normal activities. The recovery time for a dislocated patella will also depend on your orthopedic physician's protocol.


What is the Treatment for Dislocated Patella?


During physical therapy, the common goal(s) is to reduce pain and inflammation, especially during ambulation. Another goal is to regain the functional range of motion (ROM) and improve VMO strength to decrease the risk of the patella being dislocated again. Physical therapy will also improve patellofemoral alignment by improving muscle and retinaculum lengths.  PT will also improve proprioception, agility and balance, especially for the active/sports population.

JOI VMO or Quad StrengtheningImage of the Quad Muscles and Tendons


The majority of people with a dislocated patella will recover with conservative treatment and will not require surgery. In some cases, surgery may be required to repair significant bone or ligament damage caused by the dislocation. This may include injury to the medial patella ligaments and muscles, kneecap surface, or even performing a lateral ligament release to the knee.  If surgery is required, then the recovery and treatment will be different depending on what other structures were injured and repaired.


No matter what your activity level, if you have a sore or injured knee, you need the best care possible. Our physicians and therapists provide innovative knee care for each and every patient, and we will customize a rehab program to meet your needs. JOI is Jacksonville's leader in Orthopaedic Knee Treatment.

  Our website medical library has related articles: Chrondromalacia Patella and Anterior Knee Pain.

To schedule an appointment for physical therapy at one of the 12 JOI Rehab Centers, please call 904-858-7045.

 You can also complete all of your new patient paperwork from home. To request your registration paperwork electronically, click HERE.


 To schedule an appointment call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online or click below.  

By: Chad Evans, Physical Therapist

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