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Understanding Knee Dislocation: Causes & Treatment

Knee dislocation is a severe orthopedic injury where the thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia) lose their normal alignment. It often results from high-impact trauma, sports injuries, or vehicular accidents. Treatment can typically involve immediate medical attention to reduce the dislocation and may include surgery and rehabilitation to restore function and stability.

Understanding knee dislocation, its causes, symptoms, and intensity of the dislocation can aid in ensuring that the right care is provided at the earliest/ Knee dislocation can hamper one day to day activities and requires proper rest and care for a positive healing.

Knee Dislocation: A Guide to Causes & Treatment

Knee dislocations are complex injuries involving the misalignment of thigh and shin bones, with two primary types: low-energy (typically non-traumatic) and high-energy (resulting from accidents or sports injuries). Symptoms encompass severe pain, instability, swelling, and deformity. Treatment requires immediate medical intervention, often involving manual reduction of the dislocation, followed by rehabilitation to regain strength and stability. Understanding the root causes, ranging from ligament injuries to bone fractures is crucial for tailored care. Collaborating with a physiotherapist like Physiotattva can provide expert guidance, personalized strategies, and comprehensive management to facilitate a successful recovery.

In this article, we outline some of the common causes of knee displacement, its possible treatment, and how to care for your knee through physical therapy so that you can prevent a displacement or heal from it more holistically. 

What is Knee Dislocation?

Knee dislocation is a severe orthopedic injury involving the displacement of the thigh bone (femur) and shin bone (tibia) from their normal positions. It typically results from high-impact trauma, sports injuries, or vehicular accidents, causing pain, instability, and swelling. Prompt medical attention and treatment are essential to restore joint alignment and function.

Symptoms of a Dislocated Knee

Several symptoms of a dislocated knee can help you gauge the intensity and severity of the condition. This will help you plan the course of treatment for the injury.

Pain and Tenderness

Dislocated knee symptoms often include significant pain and tenderness around the joint. These sensations are typically localized to the injured area, making weight-bearing or joint movement uncomfortable or painful.

Visible Deformity

A visible deformity is a distinct symptom of a dislocated knee, where the joint appears misaligned or distorted, often evident to the naked eye and contributing to the injury diagnosis.

Swelling and Bruising

Swelling is a common symptom in a dislocated knee resulting from inflammation, while bruising, known as ecchymosis, occurs due to blood vessel damage, contributing to the discomfort and visual signs of the injury.

Inability to Move the Knee

The inability to move the knee is a notable symptom of a dislocated knee due to pain and joint damage that can restrict movement, making it difficult or impossible to bend or extend the knee, indicating a loss of normal joint function.

Numbness or Tingling

Numbness or tingling in a dislocated knee can result from nerve compression or damage often felt in the affected leg, signifying potential neurological involvement, and should be promptly evaluated.

Audible Pop or Snap

An audible pop or snap is sometimes heard during knee dislocation, indicating ligament or tissue tearing. It is an auditory clue to the severity of the injury.

Other Associated Injuries

Knee dislocations can cause additional injuries such as ligament tears, fractures, and blood vessel or nerve damage. These associated injuries often require careful assessment and treatment to ensure comprehensive care.

Factors Leading to Knee Dislocation

Several factors can lead to knee dislocation that can have an underlying cause. Based on the incidents, medical care needs to be provided.

Traumatic Incidents

Traumatic incidents leading to knee dislocation include accidents, falls, sports collisions, or vehicular crashes, where sudden, forceful impacts or torsional forces exerted on the knee can cause the bones to lose alignment.

Lack of Muscle Strength or Flexibility

Weak muscles and inflexibility can compromise joint stability, making it more susceptible to traumatic injuries or misalignment during physical activities. A lack of muscle strength or flexibility in the knee can predispose it to dislocation.

Anatomical Abnormalities

Anatomical abnormalities can contribute to knee dislocation, such as shallow joint surfaces, abnormal bone shapes, or ligament laxity. These inherent structural issues can reduce joint stability, increasing the risk of dislocation, especially during physical activities or traumatic events.

Obesity and Excessive Weight

Obesity and excessive weight can strain the knee joint, increasing the risk of knee dislocation. The added weight places extra stress on ligaments and can compromise joint stability, making it more susceptible to injury, particularly during physical activities.

Previous Knee Injuries

Previous knee injuries, such as ligament tears or fractures, can weaken the knee's structural integrity, making it more prone to dislocation during subsequent traumatic incidents or excessive stress on the joint.

Diagnosing Knee Dislocation

Knee dislocation can be diagnosed in multiple ways. It is important to get the right diagnosis as it helps treat the condition, understand the severity, and ensure that the individual is on the right road to recovery

Clinical Examination

Clinical examination for diagnosing knee displacement includes assessing symptoms, joint deformity, range of motion, and evaluating the affected knee's stability and ligament integrity. Imaging, such as X-rays or MRI, is often used to confirm the diagnosis and assess any associated injuries.

Neurovascular Assessment

Neurovascular assessment evaluates nerve and blood vessel function in the affected limb during knee displacement. This examination helps identify potential nerve or vascular damage, ensuring prompt treatment and management to prevent complications and promote optimal recovery.

Medical History Review

A medical history review helps identify any pre-existing conditions, previous injuries, or surgical interventions that might affect the current injury and treatment decisions, providing a comprehensive understanding of the patient's health status.

Ligament Tests

Ligament tests involve assessing the integrity and stability of key knee ligaments, such as the ACL and PCL, to determine if they are torn or compromised, aiding in the accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests, like X-rays and MRI scans, are important as they form the basis for an in-depth diagnosis of the condition. X-rays reveal bone fractures or alignment issues, while MRI scans provide detailed images of soft tissues, helping identify ligament and meniscus damage, thus aiding in precise diagnosis and treatment planning for this orthopedic injury.

Types of Knee Dislocation

Types of Knee dislocation are based on the areas of the knee where the dislocation is situated. This helps in planning treatment as every type requires separate attention.

Anterior Knee Dislocations

Anterior knee dislocations involve the thigh bone (femur) shifting forward relative to the shin bone (tibia). This type of dislocation often results from high-impact trauma, sports injuries, or accidents and can lead to severe pain, instability, and associated injuries.

Posterior Knee Dislocations

Posterior knee dislocations occur when the thigh bone (femur) shifts backward in relation to the shin bone (tibia). These dislocations typically result from high-impact trauma and can lead to pain, instability, and associated injuries in the knee joint.

Lateral Knee Dislocations

Lateral knee dislocations involve the thigh bone (femur) moving sideways away from the shin bone (tibia). This type of dislocation can occur due to traumatic incidents and may cause pain, instability, and potential damage to the knee joint structures.

Medial Knee Dislocations

Medial knee dislocations result from the thigh bone (femur) moving inward towards the shin bone (tibia). High-impact trauma or accidents often cause this type of dislocation, leading to pain, instability, and potential injuries to the knee's supporting structures.

Rotatory Knee Dislocations

Rotatory knee dislocations involve a combination of anterior, posterior, and lateral shifts in the thigh bone (femur) relative to the shin bone (tibia). These complex dislocations can occur due to severe trauma and result in significant joint instability and associated injuries.

Treatment for Dislocated Knee

Treatment for dislocated knees can help reduce severity and ensure a fast recovery. It is important to provide the right treatment after considering various factors of the injury.

Immediate First-Aid Measures

In the case of a knee dislocation,keep the injured leg immobile and avoid trying to realign the joint manually. Elevate the leg gently, if possible, to reduce swelling. Apply ice to the injured area and provide over-the-counter pain relief if available. Seek prompt medical attention as knee dislocations require professional evaluation and reduction to restore proper alignment safely.

Medical Interventions

Medical interventions for knee dislocation typically begin with an accurate diagnosis through clinical examination and imaging tests. Treatment may include manual reduction, which is a careful realignment of the joint, often performed under anesthesia. Surgical intervention may be required to repair damaged ligaments, tendons, or bones. Post-surgery, rehabilitation through physical therapy is essential to regain strength, stability, and function in the knee.

Surgical Intervention

Surgical intervention for knee dislocation involves repairing damaged ligaments, tendons, or fractured bones through arthroscopic techniques or open procedures, depending on the extent of the injury. Stabilizing the knee joint and restoring its function are the primary goals of surgery, followed by rehabilitation to aid in recovery and improve mobility.

Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

Physical therapy and rehabilitation through tailored exercise programs help regain strength, flexibility, and joint stability. Therapists work on gait retraining and functional exercises to improve mobility. This process gradually restores normal knee function and reduces the risk of recurrent dislocations. Rehabilitation is a vital part of the recovery journey, promoting long-term well-being.

Discover Knee Dislocation Solutions with Physiotattva

Our team of physiotherapists at Physiotattva provides specialized evaluation, rehabilitation, and recovery plans to ensure a successful return to optimal knee function. With a focus on individual needs and evidence-based techniques, Physiotattva supports patients in their journey to regain strength, stability, and overall well-being after a knee dislocation. Contact us today for a comprehensive consultation.


What are the common causes of a knee dislocation?

Common causes of knee dislocation include high-impact trauma, sports injuries, vehicular accidents, and extreme forces applied to the knee joint.

How is a knee dislocation diagnosed and treated?

A knee dislocation is diagnosed through clinical examination and imaging. Treatment may involve manual reduction, surgery, and rehabilitation for recovery.

How do you fix a dislocated knee?

Fixing a dislocated knee involves manual reduction, performed by a healthcare professional under anesthesia, followed by potential surgery and rehabilitation.

Can a dislocated knee heal without surgery?

In some cases, a dislocated knee may heal without surgery, particularly for less severe dislocations, with appropriate reduction and rehabilitation.

What is the fastest way to fix a dislocated knee?

The fastest way to fix a dislocated knee is through immediate medical attention, which often includes manual reduction performed by a healthcare professional.

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