What’s patellar subluxation?

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Patellar subluxation is when the kneecap slides in and out of its position, causing knee pain and clicking sounds. It can be caused by injury or weak knee joints, and is treated with stabilizing splints and strengthening exercises. Surgery may be needed for severe cases.

Patellar subluxation is a condition of the kneecap. It’s not the same as patellar luxation, which occurs when the kneecap slips out of its normal position and won’t return to that position unless it’s replaced manually. Patellar subluxation typically occurs when the kneecap doesn’t move properly and tends to slide in and out of its correct position. Knee pain can occur with this condition, and the kneecap can make clicking sounds or can palpably move from its normal position and vice versa. Patellar subluxation can increase the risk of luxating patella and is usually treated with a combination of stabilizing splints and strengthening exercises.

The kneecap, or patella, is commonly identified as the small, circular bone on the front of the knee, at the joint where the femur meets the tibia. The femur typically has a groove or canal in which the kneecap normally rests and moves. The normal, healthy patella should only move vertically within this canal.

The knee condition known as patellar subluxation occurs when the knee moves horizontally out of this channel. This can occur when the knee is injured, especially if a ligament is torn. It can occur even in the absence of injury, usually if the joint is weak or unstable. Women, children, and adolescents are more likely to suffer from patellar subluxation due to an unstable or weak knee joint.

Patellar subluxation can cause knee pain. Pain is most often felt at the outer edge of the knee, as the kneecap is more likely to move in that direction. People experiencing patellar subluxation pain may find that pressing inward against the painful part of the knee helps ease the discomfort.

When patellar subluxation occurs, the kneecap can usually be felt as it moves from side to side. The joint can make clicking sounds. Pain usually occurs.

Experts believe that weaknesses in the hip flexors, hip adductors, and quadriceps can contribute to knee instability that often leads to patella subluxation. Physical therapy usually seeks to stabilize the knee joint by stabilizing these muscles. Some therapists may recommend the use of athletic tape or a knee brace to relieve symptoms of patellar subluxation and prevent further knee injury. If symptoms are severe or if a luxated kneecap occurs, surgery may be needed to realign and stabilize the knee joint.

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