Understanding MPFL Tears: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options After Patellar Dislocation

MPFL Tears

The knee joint is a complex structure that relies on various ligaments for stability and proper function. One of the critical ligaments in the knee is the Medial Patellofemoral Ligament (MPFL), which plays a crucial role in stabilizing the

patella (kneecap). An MPFL tear can significantly impact knee stability and function, particularly following a patellar dislocation. In this blog, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for MPFL tears, providing valuable insights into this common yet often misunderstood injury.

What is the Medial Patellofemoral Ligament (MPFL)?

The MPFL is a band of connective tissue that runs from the inner side of the patella to the medial epicondyle of the femur (thigh bone). Its primary function is to prevent lateral displacement of the patella, ensuring it stays aligned

within the trochlear groove of the femur during knee movement. This ligament is particularly vulnerable to injury during a patellar dislocation, where the patella is forcefully displaced from its normal position.

Causes of MPFL Tears

MPFL Tears

An MPFL tear typically occurs as a result of a traumatic patellar dislocation. Several factors can contribute to the risk of an MPFL tear, including:

Direct Trauma:

A direct blow to the knee, such as a collision during sports or a fall, can cause the patella to dislocate laterally, resulting in an MPFL tear.

Twisting Injuries:

Sudden twisting or pivoting movements, especially with the foot planted, can lead to patellar dislocation and subsequent MPFL injury.

Congenital Factors:

Some individuals have anatomical variations, such as shallow trochlear grooves or malalignment of the patella, which predispose them to patellar instability and MPFL tears.


Symptoms of MPFL Tears

An MPFL tear is often associated with a patellar dislocation, and the symptoms can be quite pronounced. Common symptoms include:


Immediate and severe pain in the knee, particularly along the inner side, is a hallmark symptom of an MPFL tear.


Swelling around the knee joint, often accompanied by visible deformity if the patella remains dislocated.


A feeling of instability or giving way in the knee, especially during activities that involve knee movement.

Limited Range of Motion:

Difficulty bending or straightening the knee due to pain and swelling.


Tenderness along the medial aspect of the knee where the MPFL is located.

Diagnosing MPFL Tears

A thorough clinical evaluation by an orthopedic specialist is essential for diagnosing an MPFL tear. The diagnostic process typically involves:

Medical History:

A detailed medical history, including the mechanism of injury and any previous episodes of patellar dislocation, is crucial for diagnosis.

Physical Examination:

The physician will perform a physical examination to assess knee stability, tenderness, and range of motion. Special tests, such as the apprehension test, may be conducted to evaluate patellar instability.

Imaging Studies:

Imaging studies, including X-rays, MRI, or CT scans, are often used to confirm the diagnosis and assess the extent of the injury. MRI is particularly useful for visualizing soft tissue injuries like MPFL tears.

Treatment Options for MPFL Tears


The treatment approach for an MPFL tear depends on the severity of the injury, the patient’s activity level, and any associated knee injuries. Treatment options can be broadly categorized into non-surgical and surgical interventions.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Non-surgical treatment is often the first line of management for MPFL tears, especially in cases of partial tears or first-time dislocations. Non-surgical treatment may include:

Rest and Immobilization:

Resting the knee and using a knee brace or immobilizer to prevent further injury and allow the ligament to heal.

Physical Therapy:

A structured physical therapy program is essential for restoring knee strength, stability, and range of motion. Therapy focuses on strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip muscles to support the knee joint.

Pain Management:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other pain-relief medications may be prescribed to manage pain and reduce inflammation.

Surgical Treatment (MPFL surgery)

Surgical intervention may be necessary for recurrent patellar dislocations, complete MPFL tears, or when conservative treatment fails to provide adequate stability. Surgical options include:

MPFL Reconstruction:

MPFL reconstruction is the most common surgical procedure for treating MPFL tears. During this procedure, a graft (usually taken from the patient’s hamstring tendon or a donor tendon) is used to reconstruct the torn ligament. The graft is anchored to the patella and femur, restoring stability to the knee.

MPFL Tears


Arthroscopic surgery may be performed to assess and address any additional intra-articular damage, such as cartilage injuries or loose bodies, that may accompany an MPFL tear.

Realignment Procedures:

In cases where anatomical factors contribute to patellar instability, additional surgical procedures such as tibial tubercle osteotomy may be performed to realign the patella and improve stability.


An MPFL tear following patellar dislocation is a challenging injury that requires prompt and appropriate management. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options is essential for effective recovery and preventing recurrent patellar instability. Whether through conservative measures or surgical intervention, a well-structured

treatment and rehabilitation plan can help individuals regain knee function and return to their desired level of activity. If you suspect an MPFL injury or experience symptoms of knee instability, consult with an orthopedic specialist for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

By prioritizing proper diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation, individuals can successfully navigate the challenges of an MPFL injury and achieve a full recovery, returning to their active lifestyles with confidence and stability.


Rotator Cuff

Shoulder Dislocation

Shoulder Replacement Surgery