Stabilisation of the kneecap

A surgical procedure used to stabilise the kneecap.

About stabilisation of the kneecap

Patella stabilisation is an operation to stabilise the kneecap when physiotherapy hasn't helped.

Your kneecap (patella) is a small floating piece of bone in the front of your knee joint. It is connected to the thigh muscle (quadricep) by the quadricep tendon.

Common problems with the kneecap include:

  • subluxation – normally, your patella glides up and down in a groove at the bottom of your thigh bone (femur). If your thigh muscles have been weakened, your patella can be pulled out of the groove, causing pain and discomfort
  • dislocation – when the kneecap has been pulled out of position and rests on the outside of the joint. This happens if one of the ligaments holding it in place is wrenched or torn.

Your orthopaedic surgeon may recommend stabilisation surgery if you have dislocations, consistent pain or instability in knee.

Different types of patella stabilisation surgery

There are a variety of ways patella stabilisation surgery is done. Your orthopaedic surgeon will let you know which is the right option for you. 

What happens during kneecap stabilisation surgery?

Kneecap stabilisation surgery is carried out partly arthroscopically – a type of minimally invasive keyhole surgery – and partly with open surgery.

It is normally carried out under general anaesthetic, so you will be asleep.

The patella ligaments are cut and/or tightened to realign your kneecap. In MPFL repair, small drill holes are made into your thighbone and kneecap. The ligament is then inserted, where it will graft itself in place.

Tibial tubercle transfer is carried out as open surgery. Your surgeon will make an 8-10cm cut just below your kneecap. The lump on the tibia where the patella tendon attaches is cut off and moved slightly to the side, where it is reattached in the correct position.

What happens after kneecap stabilisation surgery?

You will usually be able to go home the same day as the operation. Your knee should be kept dry for 48 hours after surgery.

You will need crutches for about four to six weeks. How much weight you can bear and how much movement you're allowed varies according to the amount of surgery you've required.

We will give you physiotherapy exercises and you can take over-the-counter painkillers to help with any pain.

If you have had tibial tubercle transfer (TTT): you won't be able to put any weight on your leg for four to six weeks. You will need to wear a leg brace for at least four weeks. The cut bone itself takes about three months to heal, and it can be six to twelve months before full strength is restored.

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Published: 10 December 2019 | Review: 10 December 2022

Disclaimer: This information is published by Cromwell Hospital and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence and experience from over 30 years of treating patients. It has been peer reviewed by Cromwell Hospital doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. If you have any feedback on the content of this patient information document please email or telephone 020 7460 5901.