What Is Patellar Subluxation?

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Patellar subluxation is the medical term for dislocating the kneecap from the knee joint. There are three bones that meet at the knee joint – the thighbone, the shinbone, and the kneecap in the middle. Whenever we bend and straighten our leg, the kneecap moves up and down vertically between the bottom of the thigh bone and the upper end of the shinbone. The kneecap is secured with a network of tendons and ligaments, ensuring it stays in place. When the kneecap shifts  or dislocates, it moves outside the groove and no longer moves up and down. This causes the knew to lock  and pulls the ligaments and tendons out of place which causes them to tear away. The kneecap usually shifts laterally whichresults in pain. 

Depending on the extent of the shift, it is classified as Patellar subluxation or dislocation. This occurs because of an injury or a sudden twist or turn. Until corrected, this dislocation causes a lot of pain and discomfort.

Types of Patella Dislocation

  • Acute Patella Dislocation: The kneecap is dislocated due to an injury caused by force. This is a common injury because the kneecap requires less force than other joints to dislocate and is also easier to pop back into locationCongenital Patella Dislocation: A condition where the patella moves outside the groove, cannot be brought back to the location, and can only be corrected by surgery.
  • Congenital Patella Dislocation: A condition where the patella moves outside the groove, cannot be brought back to the location, and can only be corrected by surgery. 

Patellar Subluxation vs. Dislocation 

In patellar subluxation, the kneecap is slightly out of place and has become unstable, but  is not completely dislocated. Although this causes discomfort, subluxation does not make it difficult to walk and a popping noise may also be heard while walking. This can be caused by an injury or by general looseness in the joints. In contrast, the patella dislocation is the dislocation of the knee cap. In this case, the kneecap is completely out of  place. 

Patellar Subluxation Causes

An acute patellar subluxation can be caused by:

Those who suffer from congenital patellar dislocation are born with this condition.

Certain people are at higher risk of patella dislocation. These include:

  • Athletes
  • Dancers
  • Teenagers
  • Women
  • Big and tall men


  • An audible pop
  • Buckling of the knee
  • Intense pain
  • Sudden swelling
  • Pain after extended sitting
  • Locking of the knee
  • Inability to walk
  • Kneecap is visually out of place

Treatment of Patellar Subluxation 

The non-surgical treatment options are:

  1. RICE (Rest, Icing, Compression, and Elevation)
  2. Non-steroidal anti-inflammation drugs
  3. Physical therapy
  4. Crutches or canes to take the weight away from the knee
  5. Braces or casts to immobilize the knee


With patellar subluxation, there is a 1/3rd chance of recurrence. Studies suggest that those who had surgery for their patellar dislocation were less likely to have a re-dislocation but more likely to develop arthritis in the knee than those who did not and there is a lesser chance of full dislocation for those who underwent surgery. Still, the subluxation recurrence rate stayed the same as those who did not undergo surgery.

Surgical treatments are also available, but those are preferred if the condition is severe and the non-surgical treatments cannot heal.

Tips to prevent dislocation recurrence

  • Diligent rehabilitation: Recovering from the first injury is important. Proper follow-up with physical therapy, little to no usage of the injured leg, and giving it time to heal are vital for a fast and effective recovery.
  • Leg muscle conditioning:  It is also important to strengthen the leg muscles that secure the knee cap in its place. Regular stretching of muscle groups provides mobility.
  • Proper athletic form: For athletes, it is important to practice appropriate movements and exercises to avoid stress on the injured joint.
  • Surgery: If anatomical issues impact the injury, it is advisable to consult your healthcare provider.

Product Recommendations

HPFY hosts a wide range of products that treat patellar subluxation or dislocation. Some of the top products are:

1. Ovation Medical Neoprene Knee Support with Stabilized Patella

Can be used for patella subluxation, patella tendonitis, dislocated kneecap, chronic patella maltracking, and patella-femoral syndrome. Designed with medial and lateral metal for additional support, it ensures that the patella is stable during activities. This knee support comes with neoprene knee support for compression and warmth.

2. Breg Open Patella Knee Support

Provides warmth and compression to the area around the knee. It can be used in mild knee sprains, chondromalacia, and mild patellofemoral arthritis.

3. Breg RoadRunner Pull-On Neoprene Knee Brace with Patella Stabilizer

Delivers superior control and support to the injured knee. Ideal for medial and lateral knee instabilities and can be used in the case of mild osteoarthritis.


Patellar subluxation is a common injury and the first choice is to treat it non-surgically and recover with proper rehab techniques. A partial dislocation is easily relocatable. If the kneecap is dislocated, it is important to seek professional medical attention to treat it with or without surgery. Proper treatment followed by complete rest is key to avoid any recurrence.


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