Patellar instability in Children

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The patella, or kneecap, is a small bone that fits into a groove on the end of the thighbone and sits over the knee, allowing it to function properly. When the groove is shallow or an accident happens, the kneecap can slide out of place; this is called patellar instability, or kneecap dislocation. 

  • In some young athletes, the kneecap repeatedly dislocates by itself, slipping back and forth into place over the course of a few days or weeks. This may cause no pain or mild pain.
  • But when the kneecap is pushed out of place because of an accident, it is usually more painful.
  • In both cases, it’s important to see a doctor, because without treatment there can be permanent damage and more pain. So, even though this is a fairly common injury, it’s important to be seen by a doctor, and often an orthopedist. 
  • Most of the time, kneecap dislocation can be treated with physical therapy and a brace, but in more serious cases, your child may need surgery to repair or tighten the surrounding ligaments.
  • Most children—including those who need surgery—are back to sports and other activities in three to four months.

How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches kneecap dislocation (patellar instability)

At Boston Children’s Hospital, our doctors specialize in orthopedic care. Our clinical experts lead the country in research and care, and have the pediatric orthopedic expertise to treat the unique needs of children and young adults' musculoskeletal systems.

Each year, our orthopedic team conducts more than 92,000 patient visits and more than 6,000 surgeries. While assessing knee dislocation (patellar instability), our doctors will do everything possible to get the most precise diagnosis so your child can get back to his life. 

Patellar instability: Reviewed by Dennis Kramer, MD

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