Patellar Instability | Diagnosis and Treatment

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How is patellar instability diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a patellar injury begins with a medical history and physical exam. The doctor will evaluate range of motion, the appearance of the knee and check for soreness or sensitivity.

X-rays may be needed to determine how well the kneecap can fit into the groove. Occasionally, your doctor also may order an MRI to check for ligament tears in the knee.

What are the treatment options for patellar instability?

Treatment for kneecap dislocation depends on how serious the injury is, and whether the kneecap will continue to stay in place over time. The goal is to bring the kneecap to its proper place and keep it there.

Most of the time, the kneecap will go back into place on its own immediately after it dislocates. Other times, children need surgery to keep the kneecap in place. Both treatment options usually allow the child to return to sports and other activities in three to four months.

Kneecap dislocation treatment without surgery

If your child's kneecap dislocates, go to the emergency room. Here, the doctor will do an x-ray to see if the kneecap is back in place — most of the time it will be. Sometimes, the doctor might have to apply pressure to move the kneecap back into place.

Your doctor may recommend a supportive brace and physical therapy until the knee stabilizes. If the kneecap continues to slide out of place, your doctor may do an MRI to check for any tears in the ligament or loose pieces of bone that might have broken off during the dislocation.

Kneecap dislocation surgical treatment

If the knee continues to dislocate or shows symptoms of instability, your child might need surgery to tighten the ligaments and make the area around the knee stronger. This surgery often can be performed arthroscopically using several small incisions.

After surgery, your child will probably wear a brace and walk with crutches for six weeks, and go to physical therapy for two to three months. Once the pain and injury are gone, children usually can return to sports.

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