What is a patella dislocation?

The patella bone is surrounded by tendons, and rests in a groove at the end of the femur. The patella is held in place by ligaments and tendons. A kneecap or patella dislocation occurs when the patella bone is pushed out of place, and soft tissues such as ligaments, muscles and tendons are damaged. Patella dislocations are most common in children and young adults.

A patella dislocation can happen for the following reasons:

  • Loose ligaments can make dislocation more likely
  • Shallow grooves can increase the risk of dislocation
  • Muscle weakness can lead to dislocations
  • Hard falls or knocks can cause the patella to be pushed out of place, and can occur as a sport injury.
  • A twisting of the knee or ankle can result in a dislocation.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a dislocated patella include:

  • Knee pain
  • Swelling
  • The feeling of having the kneecap shift from its usual position
  • A popping sound when the kneecap dislocates

How can it be treated?

If you think you have dislocated your kneecap, your doctor will conduct a physical examination, and check for tenderness and range of motion. He will then put the kneecap back in place by applying pressure to the area.

Some non-surgical treatments include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Rest
  • The use of crutches or a brace

If you have experienced multiple dislocations, or experience pain and instability after exhausting all the above non-surgical treatment options, your orthopedic surgeon may recommend surgery. During the procedure, your orthopedic surgeon will repair/reconstruct the medial patelo-femoral ligament that holds the patella in place. The ligament reconstruction will be preceded by a knee arthroscopy to make sure the other structures inside the knee (meniscus) are not damaged. The surgical equipment used in arthroscopy is particularly small, which means that the incisions made in the body will be small, less painful, and will heal much quicker than those made in traditional open surgery.


Dr Gabriel Pirjol is based at St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban and also consults and operates from Gateway Hospital in Umhlanga, Westville Hospital and Malvern Medicross.


Telephone : +27 31 202 5463

Email :

Address : Suite 24 Chelmsford Medical Centre
St Augustine's Hospital
107 J B Marks Road
Berea, 4001