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Knee dislocation

A knee dislocation is when the thigh bone and shin bone become separated. We look at how a dislocated knee can be treated.

woman helping man that has dislocated his knee
A dislocation in the body occurs when a bone slips out of a joint. This is often described as an abnormal separation in the joint.

A knee dislocation is a knee injury in which the thigh bone (femur) and the shinbone (tibia) become separated from their normal close contact with one another.

This is an extremely serious injury that requires urgent medical attention and treatment. It should be noted that a knee dislocation is not the same as a patella dislocation; with a patella dislocation, the kneecap (patella), which is the front of the knee, is separated from the front of the thigh bone (femur).

Knee dislocation is not a common injury of the knee; a patellar dislocation is a much more frequent knee injury.

A dislocated knee is a rare type of injury to the knee. It is typically caused by a powerful, high-impact trauma to the knee.

This trauma is often the result from a direct impact to the knee. As such, the injury is usually found in people who participate in contact sports like rugby, football or judo.

Another cause of knee dislocation is road traffic accidents (RTAs). However, a serious fall can also result in a knee dislocation if body weight is placed on the knee joint when it is at an unusual angle. Sudden twists, turns or changes in direction, while putting weight on the leg, can in some rare occasions result in the dislocation of the knee.

A knee dislocation is a serious injury and often damages the surrounding soft tissue. It will usually also cause extensive damage to main ligaments in the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL). It is also possible that the medial patellofemoral ligament may be damaged in a knee dislocation. If the ligaments are also damaged then these will need treatment, which may involve additional surgery, to realise a full recovery.

Although extremely rare, the dislocation of a knee replacement is also a possible cause of a knee injury. If you have had a knee replacement surgery then you may experience symptoms of a partial knee dislocation as an indication that there are problems with your knee.

As a dislocated knee is most commonly the result of trauma, you will quickly know that something is wrong with your knee. The common dislocated knee symptoms include: ·       

  • Excruciating pain in the knee and the leg, this can be made worse with movement.    
  • Noticeable swelling of the knee. ·      
  • Deformity of the knee joint. You may be unable to straighten the your leg and your range of motion will be reduced.
  • The leg will no longer be able to support your weight.  
  • The leg may feel weak or numb. This is caused by damage to the peroneal nerve in the calf as a result of the injury.

If you have dislocated your knee, due to the severity of the injury and the potential for further damage to occur, you will need emergency surgical treatment as soon as possible.

Initially, the treatment will be focused on minimising any damage to blood vessels or nerves in the leg. This treatment will also include stabilising the knee and managing pain using pain medication.

Knee dislocation surgery will almost inevitably be required to reposition the shinbone (tibia) and thigh bone (femur) into their correct alignment as well as to repair or reconstruct any damaged ligaments. In most cases, this surgery will be performed under a general anaesthetic.

Due to the extent of the damage that can be caused by a knee dislocation, it is not unusual to need a number of surgical procedures following the initial surgery to return the bones to the knee joint. These surgeries will aim to fully repair and restore function in your knee.

Once your knee dislocation has been restored through surgery or surgeries, the next stage of your rehabilitation begins. This is to help you recover as quickly, fully and safely as possible.

It will take time to build up your leg muscles again and to be able to mobilise safely. A physical therapist will help you with a course of knee dislocation rehabilitation exercises to build strength in your muscles. This in turn will help to improve your mobility, allowing you to resume your normal range of activities as soon as possible.

If you’ve had an acute knee dislocation and are struggling with recovery, mobility or ongoing pain, you can discuss your symptoms with one of our consultants. In addition, the last thing that you want is to have to wait for your treatment.

Our orthopaedic surgeons will be able to use their vast experience to advise you on the best course of action and/or therapy to have you moving confidently again, without pain in the long term.

Alongside our orthopaedic surgeons, we have a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals who will help you as you recover.

Our physiotherapists have access to state-of-the-art technologies and equipment as well as mobility aids such as crutches and walking frames. They will be able to help you with a course of dislocated knee exercises. A physiotherapist will work with you to help you throughout your recovery and to ensure you are able to move safely and confidently once again as soon as it is medically possible.

Physical therapy can help to improve your knee mobility and strengthen the muscles in your leg and knee. This will help reduce the risk of a repeat dislocation. A knee support for a dislocated knee can also aid your recovery and reduce how long you are on crutches after a knee dislocation.

It can take a long time to fully recover from a dislocated knee. The exact length of the dislocated knee recovery time will depend on the extent of damage to the muscles, ligaments or blood vessels in the knee as a result of the dislocation.

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