Patellar Dislocation: Workup and Decision-Making

Cureus. 2023 Oct 9;15(10):e46743. doi: 10.7759/cureus.46743. eCollection 2023 Oct.


Acute patellar dislocation (PD) is usually a problem of adolescents and young adults. In most cases, it is a sports-related injury. It is the result of an indirect force on the knee joint, which leads to valgus and external rotation of the tibia relative to the femur. PD is unlikely to occur on a knee with normal patellofemoral joint (PFJ) anatomy. Acute PD consists of an acute injury of the ligamentous medial patellar stabilizers in the background of factors predisposing to patellar instability. These factors are classified into three groups. The first group refers to the integrity of the ligamentous medial patellar restraints, particularly, the medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL). The second group refers to an abnormal PFJ anatomy, which renders the patella inherently unstable inside the trochlea. The third group refers to the overall axial and torsional profile of the lower limb and to systemic factors, such as ligament laxity and neuromuscular coordination of movement. PD at a younger age is associated with an increased number and severity of patellar instability predisposing factors and lower stress to dislocate the patella. Acute primary PD is usually treated conservatively, while surgical treatment is reserved for recurrent PD. The aim of treatment is to restore the stability and function of the PFJ and to reduce the risk of patellar redislocation. Surgical procedures to treat patellar instability are classified into non-anatomic and anatomic procedures. Non-anatomic procedures are extensor mechanism realignment techniques that aim to center the patella into the trochlear groove. Anatomic procedures aim to restore the PFJ anatomy (ruptured ligaments, osteochondral fractures), which has been severed after the first incident of PD. Anatomic procedures, especially MPFL reconstruction, are more effective in preventing recurrent PD, compared with non-anatomic techniques. Theoretically, all factors that affect PFJ stability should be evaluated and, if possible, addressed. This is practically impossible. Considering that the MPFL ruptures in almost all PDs, MPFL reconstruction is the primary procedure, which is currently selected by most surgeons as a first-line treatment for patients with recurrent PD. Restoration of the axial and torsional alignment of the lower limbs is also increasingly implemented by surgeons. Non-anatomic surgical techniques, such as tibial-tuberosity osteotomy, are used as an adjunct to anatomic procedures. In the presence of multiple PFJ instability factors, acute MPFL reconstruction may be the treatment of choice for acute primary PD as well. Skeletal immaturity of the patient precludes osseous procedures to avoid premature physis closure and subsequent limb deformity. Unfortunately, restoration of the patient's previous activity level or participation in more strenuous sports is questionable and not easy to predict. In the case of competitive athletes, PD may prevent participation in elite levels of sports.

Keywords: dislocation; extensor; knee; mechanism; mpfl; mpml; mptl; patella; valgus; vmo.

Publication types

  • Review