Kneecap removal, or patellectomy, is the surgical removal of the patella, commonly called the kneecap.
Kneecap removal is done under three circumstances:
- when the kneecap is fractured or shattered
- when the kneecap dislocates easily and repeatedly
- when degenerative arthritis of the kneecap causes extreme pain
A person of any age can break a kneecap in an accident. When the bone is shattered beyond repair, the kneecap is removed. No prosthesis or artificial replacement part is put in its place.
Dislocation of the kneecap is most common in young girls between the ages of 10-14. Initially, the kneecap will pop back into place of its own accord, but pain may continue. If dislocation occurs too often, or the kneecap doesn't go back into place correctly, the patella may rub the other bones in the knee, causing an arthritis-like condition. Some people are born with birth defects that cause the kneecap to dislocate frequently.
Degenerative arthritis of the kneecap, also called patellar arthritis or chondromalacia patellae, can cause enough pain that it is necessary to remove the kneecap. As techniques of joint replacement have improved, arthritis in the knee is more frequently treated with total knee replacement.
People who have had their kneecap removed for degenerative arthritis and then later have to have a total knee replacement are more likely to have problems with the stability of their artificial knee than those who only have total knee replacement. This is because the realigned muscles and tendons provide less support once the kneecap is removed.
Kneecap removal is performed under either general or local anesthesia at a hospital or freestanding surgical center, by an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon makes an incision around the kneecap. Then, the muscles and tendons attached to the kneecap are cut and the kneecap is removed. Next, the muscles are sewed back together, and the skin is closed with sutures or clips that stay in place about one week. Any hospital stay is generally brief.
Pain relievers may be prescribed for a few days. The patient will initially need to use a cane, or crutches, to walk. Physical therapy exercises to strengthen the knee should be begun immediately. Driving should be avoided for several weeks. Full recovery can take months.
People who have kneecap removal because of a broken bone or repeated dislocations have the best chance for complete recovery. Those who have this operation because of arthritis may have less successful results, and later need a total knee replacement.
"Kneecap Removal." In The Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness and Surgery. 3rd ed. Ed. H. Winter Griffith, et al. New York: Berkeley Publishing, 1995.
Degenerative arthritis, or osteoarthritis—A noninflammatory type of arthritis, usually occurring in older people, characterized by degeneration of cartilage, enlargement of the margins of the bones, and changes in the membranes in the joints.