Conservative management following patellar dislocation: a level I systematic review

J Orthop Surg Res. 2023 May 30;18(1):393. doi: 10.1186/s13018-023-03867-6.


Background: Patellar instability is a common and disabling clinical condition. Treatment of acute primary patellar dislocation aims to reduce the risk of recurrence or painful subluxation and improve function. However, the actual clinical efficacy of any management modality following an acute dislocation has never been demonstrated in prospective or retrospective studies, and the optimal way in which the various management modalities should be used is at best unclear.

Methods: A search was conducted in PubMed, Bireme and Embase databases. Inclusion criteria followed the acronym PICOS, (P) subjects with patellar instability, (I) therapeutic interventions, (C) placebo or control or surgical treatments, (O) rate of dislocations and function, and (S) clinical trials. The Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) terms used were: (("patellar instability") OR ("patellar dislocation")) AND ((physiotherapy) OR (rehabilitation) OR ("conservative treatment") OR (therapy) OR (therapeutic)). The risk of bias was analysed using the PeDRO scale.

Results: Seven randomized controlled trials including 282 patients were considered. The quality of studies detailing the results of conservative treatment was higher than that of surgical procedures, but all studies have relatively low methodological quality. Four studies compared physiotherapeutic interventions with surgical procedures, and three studies compared conservative intervention techniques.

Conclusion: An unstructured lower limb physical therapy programme evidences similar outcomes to specific exercises. Surgical management is associated with a lower rate of re-dislocation; however, whether surgery produces greater functional outcomes than conservative management is still unclear. The use of a knee brace with a limited range of motion, stretching and neuromuscular exercises are the most commonly recommended physiotherapy methodologies.

Keywords: Dislocation; Instability; Patella; Physiotherapy; Rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Conservative Treatment
  • Humans
  • Joint Instability*
  • Patellar Dislocation* / surgery
  • Prospective Studies
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome