What's going on with my knee and how can I make it stop?
March 8, 2015 3:57 AM   Subscribe

My knee keeps doing this mysterious dislocating thing which is really quite unpleasant. I would like to figure out why this is happening and how to make it stop. Details inside!

Female, early 20s. No health problems worse than anxiety/depression and allergies. Definitely no joint issues besides this.

Since I was about 15 or 16 my knee has been maybe partially dislocating every once in a while (or at least that's what it feels like). It only happens when I'm sitting "criss cross applesauce" which, unfortunately, is and has always been my typical sitting position and by and far the most comfortable except for this.

What usually happens is that I will be sitting like that and suddenly there's a change in my knee (no pressure on it). It's like all the muscles tense up and I know something is wrong and that I won't be able to straighten my knee if I try to. It throws me into a panic every time because it's just a terrible feeling. It takes me a few minutes to work up the courage to try and straighten it and when I do it makes the most awful click noise like two bones scraping together and hurts like crazy.

Anyone know what's going on? This happened yesterday at work while I was talking to some customers and I'm so sore today that I thought I should probably try and get to the bottom of this.
posted by sarahgrace to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If this is a torn meniscus or a similar cartilage injury, then an MRI should certify that easily even if it's behaving fine when scanned. One of my knees had a minor tear and healed within two years. The other knee had a more severe tear which over two years gave me increasingly frequent bouts like yours, including the sitting-still-doing-nothing lockup. It would also "go out" while in motion, and after pitching down stairs a few too many times, I got the recommended surgery. A couple of years later I was running again. Decades later, as predicted, there's a touch of arthritis where the cartilage was removed. Not-your-doctor, mileage-varies.
posted by gregoreo at 4:46 AM on March 8, 2015

I can't tell from your description if your knee is partially dislocating or not, but if I were you, I would stop sitting with your legs crossed. Every time this happens, you might be loosening up something inside your knee and making it more likely to happen again. There must be another sitting position you can switch to.
posted by sunflower16 at 4:48 AM on March 8, 2015

I had a similar problem with this -- patellar subluxation -- that persisted until my kneecap just plain dislocated, requiring almost two months of rehab and physical therapy. I strongly recommend that you see a doctor and, if necessary, get a referral to an orthopedic specialist. Depending on the cause, it may be as easy as a few exercises or as difficult as some surgery. In either case, repeated subluxations or dislocations cause cumulative damage and indicate something else is going on.
posted by kewb at 8:03 AM on March 8, 2015

First things first, you really do need to train yourself to sit differently, at least until you get input from a medical professional about this. I sympathize, because I also prefer sitting "criss cross," but I've been working on training myself not to do this for a while now, and I don't even have as severe an issue as you seem to. (Although I do suspect it contributed to the repeated soft tissue knee injuries I've suffered from over the years.)

Are you by any chance on the shorter side? I'm 5'2, and I've realized one of the main reasons behind my sitting style is that a lot of seats are too tall for me to rest my feet fully on the ground and therefore get good traction and stability, hence folding up my legs when I sit. To address this, I got an adjustable desk chair that had a setting low enough for me to get my feet flat on the floor. I actually use this not just for work, but also sitting at my kitchen table. Alternatively, you can get a foot stool or something so you can extend your legs if that's more comfortable.

Additionally, I found compression knee braces to be quite useful in giving me stability when I'm walking around and especially when exercising. I also did a regimen of physical therapy-type exercises to help strengthen the muscles in my legs which seems to have had the biggest long term impact in preventing injuries. (This was all stuff I tried out on my own. I admit I never got around to actually seeing a specialist.)

With all that being said, IANAD, and I would recommend waiting until you've spoken to one before pursuing any particular exercise/physical therapy regimen in case it ends up doing more harm than good.
posted by litera scripta manet at 1:00 PM on March 8, 2015

Male, early 20s - this was me back in mid-highschool. In my case, my knees spontaneously dislocated one fine morning, absolutely coincidentally right after my gym teacher instituted a really poorly-thought out mandatory circuit training program with improperly configured weight machines...

As has already been pointed out, this sounds like classic patellar subluxation. A few months of physical therapy and a few years of knee braces dealt with it in my case. If you're lucky, you might even 'grow out of it' if you gain enough muscle strength in the area. In any case, talk to an orthopedist and get a referral for physical therapy.
posted by fifthrider at 1:43 PM on March 8, 2015

Just as another data point, this sensation used to happen to me A LOT as a teenager. I never associated it with dislocation but always figured it was some type of muscle spasm. (Incidentally, no one ever believed me and teased me endlessly for making it up!) I don't know for sure it if was the same thing going on, obviously, but I will say it felt almost identical to what you're describing. Coincidentally, it has never happened again since I started doing strength training. I actually didn't start the strength training with an intent to solve the knee problem - I started becoming more active in college for other reasons - but I will say that since my leg muscles have become objectively stronger, it's never happened again.

I would still go to a doc to check it out, but just wanted to reassure you that it's very possible the answer will be as easy as working some squats and lunges into your routine. :)
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:44 PM on March 8, 2015

When this happened to me it was a tear of my lateral meniscus. After experiencing it for several years, it "locked" at a 90 degree angle during a spirited game of basketball, and surgery (arthroscopy, fortunately) was the only recourse.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:37 PM on March 8, 2015

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