What to Expect After Treatment for a Dislocated Knee

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Leg Extenstions

Looking Beyond Initial Treatment

There are basically two types of knee dislocations. The first is a dislocated kneecap (patella). The other is a more complex injury that involves dislocation of the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shinbone). Your recovery will vary depending the type of injury, but there are some general principles that apply to both of them. Read on to learn more about a complete recovery after a dislocated knee.  

Recovery Goals

Your goals during recovery are to manage your symptoms, regain knee function, and prevent long-term problems. This can take a long time and be quite a challenge, especially after dislocation of the femur and tibia. This serious injury generally requires one or more surgeries. A dislocated kneecap is usually put back in place without surgery and has a shorter recovery period. Talk with your doctor from the very beginning about the best strategies to reach these goals and what you can expect.

Pain Management

The pain after surgery for a dislocated knee can be severe. Pain is generally less severe after nonsurgical treatment for a displaced kneecap. Controlling pain is vital because it helps you complete rehabilitation and increase your activities. 

You will likely go home on a narcotic pain reliever after surgery for a dislocated knee. Talk to your doctor before taking other pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). These drugs can slow down the healing process after surgery. However, your doctor may recommend one of them for pain control when recovering from a dislocated kneecap. 


You will need extensive rehabilitation to recover after surgery for a dislocated knee. Rehabilitation generally includes wearing a hinged knee brace for at least six weeks. You will need to use crutches and gradually return to full weight bearing over several months. Your physical therapist will guide you in safe exercises to strengthen the knee muscles and reduce the risk of stiffness. Your care team will make a personal plan for you based on the extent of your injury.

Physical therapy after a dislocated kneecap is less complex. It may include wearing a brace, strengthening exercises, and cycling.


Returning to normal activities can take several months or more, depending on the type of injury. You will return to full weight bearing gradually. Then your rehabilitation team will have you add activities and intensity. Follow all instructions for wearing your brace, and performing stretching and therapy exercises at home. Doing too much too fast can cause problems. Ask your doctor when it’s safe to return to daily activities, driving, work, sports, and other leisure activities.

Wound Care

Wound healing after surgery for a dislocated knee takes about 1 to 2 weeks. Follow all instructions for covering and dressing the wound, keeping it dry, and showering. At the end of this time, you may need your doctor to remove your stitches or staples. This won’t be necessary if your doctor used dissolving stitches and tape strips. Be sure to call your doctor if your wound is red, swollen, warm, draining excess fluid, bleeding, or starting to open.

Stop Using Tobacco

Your doctor may have suggested that you stop smoking or using tobacco before surgery. If you didn’t meet that challenge then, it’s vital that you take it on during recovery. Nicotine inhibits the healing process. It doesn’t matter what form of nicotine, so nicotine-based programs to stop smoking aren’t a good choice for treatment. But there are other medicines that can help you kick the habit. Talk to your doctor for more information.


It’s important to be aware of possible complications while you recover. Call your doctor right away if you have fever, drainage form your surgical wound, or increasing pain or swelling. Other warning signs include redness or tenderness in the leg, calf, ankle or foot. 

Long-term knee stiffness can be a disabling complication after surgery. It is important to perform your exercises as directed to help prevent this. Tell your doctor or physical therapist if your knee is feeling stiffer than expected. 

A dislocated kneecap can lead to arthritis and other problems in the knee. Tell your doctor if you have lingering pain or stiffness after recovery from a dislocated kneecap.  

Recovery Success

An ideal recovery from a dislocated knee returns knee function without stiffness or other symptoms. This may not be possible in all cases, but you can do your part to get there by following your rehabilitation plan. Your doctor will check your progress as your knee heals.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 13
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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  2. Knee conditions and treatments. New England Musculoskeletal Institute. http://nemsi.uchc.edu/clinical_services/orthopaedic/knee/patellar_dislocation.html.

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  4. Unstable kneecap. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00350.