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Patella (Kneecap) Instability

Patella (Kneecap) Instability

Patella instability is a condition where the kneecap (patella) moves out of its normal position, causing pain and instability in the knee joint. To understand patella instability, it is important to first discuss the anatomy of the knee.




The kneecap is a triangular-shaped bone that sits over the front of the knee joint. It is held in place by tendons and ligaments (medial patellofemoral ligament)  that attach it to the thighbone (femur). The patella moves up and down in a groove on the end of the femur as the knee bends and straightens. When the patella moves out of this groove, it can cause pain and instability in the knee.


There are various factors that can contribute to patella instability, including:

  1. Anatomic factors: Some people may have a naturally shallow or misaligned patellar groove, making it easier for the patella to move out of position.

  2. Trauma: A direct impact to the knee or a twisting injury can cause the patella to dislocate.

  3. Muscle weakness or imbalance: Weakness or imbalance in the muscles that support the knee can lead to patella instability.

  4. Hypermobile joints: People with hypermobile joints may be more prone to patella instability.




Treatment options for patella instability depend on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. Non-operative management may include:

  1. Physical therapy: Exercises to strengthen the muscles that support the knee can help improve patella stability.

  2. Bracing: A knee brace that supports the patella can help keep it in place during activity.

  3. Activity modification: Avoiding activities that aggravate the knee can help reduce symptoms.

  4. Pain management: Over-the-counter pain relievers or corticosteroid injections may be used to manage pain and inflammation.

In cases where non-operative management does not provide relief, surgical treatment may be necessary. 


Surgical options may include:

  1. Medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL) reconstruction: This procedure involves creating a new ligament to help hold the patella in place.

  2. Tibial tubercle osteotomy: In this procedure, the bony attachment of the patellar tendon is repositioned to improve patella alignment.


Recovery and rehabilitation from patella instability treatment can take several months and may involve physical therapy to regain strength and mobility in the knee. It is important to work with a healthcare provider to develop an individualized treatment plan based on the specific needs and goals of the patient.

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