Patellar Instability: What Causes It and How to Alleviate It

If you’ve been noticing that your knee isn’t working as efficiently as you like or that it seems to pop out of its proper place during activity, then you may be experiencing a more serious condition known as patellar instability.

Patellar instability is not a very common issue; however, patellar instability affects an average of 7 people out of 100,000 individuals in the United States. The problem is commonly diagnosed in people in their late teens or early twenties, and it generally affects more females than males.

xray of bone

What Is Patellar Instability?

A normal, properly-functioning kneecap (patella) will sit in a groove known as the “trochlea” at the end of the femur. When the knee straightens and bends, the kneecap should gently glide up and down and remain within the groove area.

When patellar instability is present, the kneecap will either move in and out of the groove during movement or slip out of the groove when the individual is stationary.

For those who notice any sort of instability, it’s important to treat the problem as soon as possible. While the incident may not be painful or inconvenient the first time, it has been found that 15-44% of those people who experience an incident of patellar instability will experience more incidents over time.

Causes of Patellar Instability

 Bone structure

Bone structure is one of the causes of patellar instability, which can occur when the groove grows in a rotated position or when is does not form deep enough for the patella to sit properly. Unfortunately, individuals who experience instability because of this problem may suffer from the issue for most of their lives.

 Direct Hit

A direct hit to the knee may be cause for patellar instability, as the patella may be forced out of its groove slightly (subluxation). After a traumatic hit, the patella may continue to slide in and out of its groove, regardless of the type of activity occurring (whether its climbing stairs, walking on uneven terrain, or simply lying down).

Hockey team

Weak Muscles

To keep all the components of the knee strong and stable, it is important for the supporting muscles to be balanced, flexible, and strong. People with weaker muscles may be at a higher risk of patellar instability than someone who is in better psychical shape. If the muscles cannot hold and support the patella during activity, the patella can slide in and out of its proper positioning.

Improper Movements

Because the knee takes on a lot of the load when it comes to our bodies, it is important that we perform all of our daily functions properly to assist the knee. For athletes, this means learning how to jump, run, land, and change direction with proper form, so that they may alleviate some of the pressure from the knee.

Bad positioning and form in any activity are cause for patellar instability, so it’s important to learn about the potential risks during an activity and how to avoid them safely.

 Alleviating Patellar Instability

To alleviate patellar instability, there are a few different solutions that you can use in combination for effective relief.

R.I.C.E

The most common practice for pain relief, R.I.C.E stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. If you’re just noticing patellar instability for the first time, consider using these practices to help alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and protect the area.

 Physical Therapy

Effective physical therapy will help to improve the strength of the areas surrounding the patella. Physical therapy for patellar instability may include stretching, strengthening exercises, and electrical stimulation of the surrounding muscles. If you’re going to be taking part in physical therapy sessions, it is important to follow directions closely and to continue to practice the same exercises when your sessions are over to ensure the targeted areas remain strong.

Knee massage

Patellar Tracking Braces

Braces that help with patellar instability are generally designed to pull the kneecap inward so that the patella stays within the groove. There are a wide variety of designs available, but some of the best braces for knee instability will protect the knee with varying levels of degree flexion, painful movement restriction, and collateral ligament relief.

Those looking for a solution that can offer restriction, comfort, and support on the go will certainly benefit from a patellar tracking brace. Lightweight, breathable materials make these modern braces much more comfortable, while still keeping the patella in line and relieving the wearer of pain and discomfort.

If you’ve noticed a decrease in stability with your kneecaps, be sure to consider the suggestions mentioned above to get relief. While not all practices will work for everyone, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about which treatments will work best for you.

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