Knee Pain: Why Do My Knee-caps Dislocate?

Knee pain can be caused from many different factors from soft tissue injury to wearing the wrong kind of shoes. For some, knee pain can look a little different and even a little scary because their knee caps actually move out of place.

The knee-cap (or patella) is unique in that it is actually embedded within a tendon (this is called a sesamoid bone) and the patella is supposed to stay within a groove on the femur when your knee bends and straightens.

Sometimes, the patella will slip out of this groove when your knee bends. This can look a little creepy, and overtime can cause pain. This is most common in people that are more flexible and is more commonly found in females.

Why does this happen? There are 3 main reasons for the patella to dislocate.

1. An acute injury (a mis-step, twisting injury, fall, etc.).

2. Developmental: Sometimes, the vertical groove on the femur isn’t deep enough for the patella to stay seated in. This is more common in kids and teens, and will often improve with growth.

3. Muscle imbalance in hips and thighs.

The first one will sometimes improve on it’s own with time if not too bad of an injury or with some gentle strengthening.

The second one will also improve generally over time and with growth and muscle development.

The third is typically a chronic problem and most common in adults. This is where time doesn’t necessarily make things better, but can sometimes make things worse.

If your knee pain is from option 3, here are a couple things to do about it:

1. In the short term: you can use a knee sleeve to help provide compression and a little stability for the patella. This is generally not a good long term solution because it helps with symptoms at the time, but doesn’t address the cause of the problem.

2. Long-term solution: Strengthening of specific thigh and hip muscles as well as stretching of tighter muscles/tissues. This is most effectively done with the guidance of a trained healthcare professional such as a physical therapist.

Addressing the root cause of the problem is the only way to set yourself up for long term success.

Idaho Direct Physical Therapy helps people to get out of pain in the short-term and guides you along your journey to long-term success so you don’t have to worry about this problem again.

Want to learn more about how we can help you? Call/text at 208-557-1470.


Disclaimer: This content is for general, informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice.


Dr. Tyler Burke

DPT, Owner and Founder of Switchback Direct PT

We help injured outdoor enthusiasts to stop hurting and start adventuring.

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