Zone of injury of the medial patellofemoral ligament after acute patellar dislocation in children and adolescents

Am J Sports Med. 2011 Jul;39(7):1444-9. doi: 10.1177/0363546510397174. Epub 2011 Mar 3.


Background: Patellar dislocation is a common traumatic injury in the pediatric and adolescent population. The primary constraint to lateral subluxation and dislocation of the patella is the medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL), which serves to resist lateral translation of the patella. Injury to the MPFL may predispose to recurrent dislocation but the anatomic site of injury is poorly characterized in children and adolescents.

Purpose: The authors addressed 2 questions: (1) What is the zone of injury to the MPFL in a pediatric/adolescent population after primary patellar dislocation? (2) What is the location of the femoral attachment of the MPFL with respect to the growth plate?

Study design: Cohort study (prevalence); Level of evidence, 2.

Methods: Patients were eligible if they were ≤18 years of age and suffered a recent patellar dislocation characterized by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings of high T2-signal intensity in the lateral femoral condyle. Patients were excluded if they had a history of prior dislocations, prior knee surgery, or congenital dislocation. Two musculoskeletal radiologists and an orthopaedic resident reviewed MRI scans of 43 children. The MPFL was divided into 3 zones: patellar insertion, femoral insertion, and midsubstance. The zone of injury was confirmed by the presence of associated soft tissue edema on short tau inversion recovery sequences and the distance from the MPFL insertion to the medial distal femoral growth plate was measured. Associated injuries were noted and the Insall-Salvati ratio was measured.

Results: The MPFL injury was isolated to the patellar attachment in 61% of patients and to the femoral attachment in 12%. Twelve percent of patients had injury at both the patellar and femoral attachments. Six percent had no identifiable MPFL injury and 9% had combinations of midsubstance and either patellar or femoral attachment injuries. The kappa value for injury determinations was 0.71, indicating substantial concordance. The MPFL insertion site averaged 5 mm distal to the medial physis. Eighty-six percent of patients had an MPFL insertion distal to the growth plate, 7% had an insertion at the physis, while only 7% had a proximal insertion. The incidence of associated chondral injuries, the value of the Insall-Salvati ratio, and the location of MPFL insertion did not vary significantly with location of MPFL injury. Sixteen patients (36%) had MPFL insertions that were within 5 mm (either proximal or distal) of the growth plate.

Conclusion: The zone of MPFL injury in a pediatric population after primary patellar dislocation was predominantly isolated to the patellar attachment (61%), in contrast to previous literature. Twelve percent of patients had injury only at the femoral attachment, while 12% of patients had injury to both the patellar and femoral attachments. The remaining 15% had injury at multiple locations or no identifiable injury. The MRI finding that the anatomic insertion of the MPFL is distal to the physis in 93% of patients and that the MPFL is more likely to be injured at the patellar attachment has important implications in the surgical reconstruction of the MPFL in pediatric or adolescent patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Female
  • Femur / anatomy & histology
  • Growth Plate / anatomy & histology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Patellar Dislocation / complications*
  • Patellar Ligament / injuries*
  • Patellar Ligament / pathology*
  • Patellofemoral Joint / injuries*
  • Patellofemoral Joint / pathology*
  • Retrospective Studies