What is the Recovery Time for 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. When this happens, the muscles and ligaments on the inside of the knee become overstretched and damaged. A dislocated patella is primarily caused by a traumatic incident such as twisting or a direct blow to the knee area. 

Patella tendon dislocation

There are a variety of factors which can cause you to have a dislocated patella:  

  • History of patella dislocation or subluxation
  • Patellofemoral joint hyperlaxity or maltracking
  • Weak inner quadriceps muscles
  • Tight IT band and hip flexors.  

What are the Symptoms of a dislocated patella?

Patients with a dislocated patella will sometimes say that “my kneecap came out of place." Sometimes a dislocated patella may self-relocate but most times a health professional may need to relocate your patella. Other common symptoms of a dislocated patella may be a visible dislocation of the kneecap (often to the outside of the knee), pain especially with weight-bearing activities and active straightening of the knee, tenderness around your kneecap, and weakness of the quadriceps muscles.

Recovering from a dislocated patella

During the first few days, you can help reduce any 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 will be 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 the movement of your knee. It usually takes about six weeks to fully recover from a dislocated patella, although sometimes it can take a bit 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.

What is the treatment for dislocated patella?

During physical therapy the common goal(s) are to reduce pain and inflammation, especially during ambulation. Another goal is to regain functional range of motion (ROM) as well as improve VMO strength to decrease the risk of the patella from 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. Usually, common treatment/recovery time for a dislocated patella is 4 to 6 weeks but this will also depend on the individual. 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 as a result of 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.