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Kneecap Dislocation: 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 you heal and return to your normal activity, usually within 3 to 6 weeks. But you need to be careful after you heal. Now that your kneecap has been dislocated, it can more easily go out of position again.

Follow-up care is a key part of your 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 you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

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

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

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

  • You have signs that your 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 foot is cool or pale or changes colour.
  • You cannot feel or move your toes or ankle.
  • You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
    • Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
    • Redness and swelling in your leg.

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

  • Your 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.