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Kneecap Dislocation in Children: Care Instructions

Anatomy of the knee


A sudden twisting or a blow can cause the kneecap (patella) to move out of its normal position. This is called a dislocation. It can happen because of a sports injury—such as turning suddenly while running.

Rest and home treatment can help your child heal and return to normal activity, usually within 3 to 6 weeks. But your child needs to be careful after healing too. Now that the kneecap has been dislocated, it can more easily go out of position again.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child rest the knee by not putting weight on the leg until the doctor says it is okay.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your child's knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice pack and your child's skin. Do not get the brace or elastic bandage wet.
  • Prop up your child's leg on a pillow when you ice it or anytime your child sits or lies down for the next 3 days. Try to keep it above the level of your child's heart. This will help reduce swelling.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Help your child follow the doctor's instructions for using crutches, a brace (immobilizer), or an elastic bandage to support the knee while it heals.
  • If you use an elastic bandage, make sure it is snug but not so tight that your child's leg is numb, tingles, or swells below the bandage. Loosen the bandage if it is too tight.
  • Go to physiotherapy if your doctor suggests it. Help your child follow the therapist's instruction for home exercises.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs that the kneecap may be dislocated again, including:
    • Severe pain.
    • A misshapen knee that looks like a bone is out of position.
    • Not being able to bend or straighten the knee.
    • Not being able to walk or bear weight on the knee.
  • Your child's foot is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • Your child cannot feel or move the toes or ankle.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child's pain and swelling get worse.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.