What is a Dislocated Knee?
The knee joint is made up of several bones, ligaments, tendons and other articular cartilage. With a knee injury, patients may suffer from damage to one or several parts of the knee. For example, a knee dislocation occurs when the lower end of the thigh bone (femur) is no longer anatomically lined up with the top of the shin bone (tibia). The knee and its internal ligaments are overstretched to a point of partial or complete tearing. This leads to an inability of the internal structures of the knee to maintain stabilization of the knee joint. This is usually caused by a serious trauma where the entire body is thrown or hit, a hard and high-speed impact to the knee, or landing directly on your knee from a tall height.
There are 4 internal ligaments in the knee joint – the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL), Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL), and Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL). Stretching, tearing or partial tearing of one or several of these internal knee joint ligaments can result in the knee dislocating. When these ligaments are compromised and unable to perform the act of giving the knee stability as they usually do, the knee can dislocate. This will cause the femur and tibia to be forced into directions or places that are not considered normal anatomical range or positioning of these bones with regard to the knee joint. A knee dislocation is not a common injury but a very serious one. When the bones of the knee are compromised in any way, it can lead to other, serious problems.
Symptoms of a Dislocated Knee
The symptoms of a dislocated knee can be many and varied. It will begin with severe pain in the area of the knee. Other dislocated knee symptoms are:
- All around swelling of the knee joint
- Redness and warmth felt over the area of the knee joint
- Fever or increased temperature as a result of the body attempting to stave off infection.
- An audible ‘popping’ sound heard at the moment of injury
- A deformity of the knee joint. Two severe deformities that may you see are called the ‘buttonhole or ‘dimple sign,’ indicating that the skin, ligament or capsule may all be involved, not only the bones
- The knee is weak and may cause the feeling of ‘giving way’ or ‘buckling’ as it is unable to maintain stability when you try to stand on it
- A significant decrease in range of motion of the knee joint, both actively and passively, specifically if you can’t bend the knee without pain
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What to do for a Dislocated Knee
A knee dislocation is a severe injury that can yield chronic knee pain in patients, particularly when not treated immediately. Prompt medical attention is mandatory for this condition. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the worse the dislocation can become and the more collateral problems it can cause.
A dislocation of the knee can compromise nerves, blood vessels and skin in the damaged area. These structures being affected may lead to much worse problems such as sensation and temperature issues, blood clots, and skin disorders due to the nerves and blood vessels being damaged. Emergency medical attention is vital to check pulses, sensation and other forms of nerve conduction to ensure that nothing besides the knee has been severely compromised.
How do I prevent a Dislocated Knee?
Serious trauma to the knee is sudden and never planned. It may seem impossible to completely prevent a dislocated knee diagnosis. That being said, there are things that patients can do in order to care for their knee and ligaments every day. Caring for your knees on a regular basis can help avoid injuries in full or keep the dislocated knee pain from growing into an irreversible condition. Patients can prevent knee dislocations by:
- Wearing protective knee pads when engaging in contact sports
- Regularly stretching the knee so all ligaments are flexible
- Strength training to improve the strength of muscles, which will also strengthen the internal ligaments
- Staying within the range of motion for your knee joint
- Exercising the knee so the muscles around the ligaments are strengthened
- Rest for the knee after any injury and allowing it to heal properly