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Pain on Your Kneecap

When things are in the groove, they’re going smoothly. That surely is the case with your knee. As long as your kneecap (patella) stays in its groove in the knee, you can walk, run, sit, stand, kneel, and move easily. When the kneecap slips out of the groove, problems and knee pain can often result.

In a normal knee, the kneecap fits nicely in the groove. If the groove is uneven or too shallow, the kneecap could slide off, resulting in a partial or complete dislocation.

A sharp blow to the kneecap, as in a fall, can also pop the kneecap out of place. When this happens there may be damage to the knee ligament as well, which affects how your knee cap moves within the groove.

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Symptoms of Kneecap Injuries

Typical symptoms of kneecap problems could include:

  • buckling of the knee so it no longer supports weight,
  • kneecap slipping off to the side,
  • knee catching when you move, and
  • pain in the front of your knee that increases with activity.

Also, you may experience pain when sitting, stiffness, creaking, or cracking sounds during movement, and/or swelling.

Treatment for Kneecap Injuries

Kneecap Reduction

If your kneecap has been completely dislocated out of its groove, the first step is to return the kneecap to its proper place. This is called reduction. Sometimes, reduction happens on its own. Other times, your doctor will have to apply gentle force to push the kneecap back in place.

A dislocation can damage the underside of the kneecap and the end of the thighbone, which can lead to additional pain and arthritis. Arthroscopic surgery can correct this condition.

Physical Therapy

If the kneecap has dislocated, your doctor may recommend nonsurgical treatments, such as exercises and stabilizing braces. Exercises will help strengthen the muscles in your thigh so that the kneecap stays aligned. We often recommend as part of the physical therapy. The goal is for you to return to your normal activities within one to three months.

Surgery for Kneecap Injuries

If you have a chronic knee condition, which means your knee continues to be unstable, your doctor might recommend surgery. Kneecap surgery can realign and tighten tendons or reconstruct/repair ligaments to keep the kneecap on track, or to release tissues that pull the kneecap off track.

Common surgeries to stabilize the kneecap include:

  • MPFL (medial patellar femoral ligament) repair or reconstruction.
  • Tibial tubercle osteotomy.

The MPFL is a main stabilizer of the kneecap. When it’s torn, it may result in an unstable kneecap.

A tibial tubercle osteotomy involves the movement of bones on the shinbone (tibia) that connects to the kneecap tendon. These tendons stabilize the kneecap.

Recovery From MPFL or Tibial Tubercle Osteotomy

Recovery may take a couple months depending on the surgery needed. After surgery you will start with physical therapy exercises to regain knee motion and strength. Once your knee is healed, you will start with exercises to improve your range of motion and knee strength.

Crutches & Braces

How long you are required to use crutches depends on how severe your injury was and your surgeon’s recommendations. You will also wear a knee immobilizer brace to help protect your knee during the first couple weeks after your surgery. How long you require a brace also depends your injury and your surgeon’s recommendations.

What to Expect at Your Orthopedic Appointment

We provide expert care and orthopedic evaluations for adults, adolescents, and children who are experiencing problems of the bones and joints. Our orthopedic specialists diagnose and treat everything from simple sprains and strains to complex conditions.

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