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What is a Loose Knee?

By Brenda Scott
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A loose knee is a condition characterized by knee pain and instability, snapping and popping sounds, and a feeling of weakness in the knee. The condition is frequently caused by a traumatic injury, such as a sudden twist, which results in the dislocation of the knee cap or damage to the ligaments which hold the knee in place. Atraumatic, or non-injury conditions such as a loose joint or a misaligned kneecap, can also cause a loose knee.

The knee is the largest and most easily injured joint in the body. It is formed by four bones: the femur, or thigh bone; the tibia, or large shin bone; the fibula, or small shin bone; and the patella, or kneecap. A gelatinous piece of cartilage called the meniscus acts as a cushion between the bones. The joint is held firmly in place by the four ligaments, the medial collateral ligament (MCL), the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the lateral collateral ligament (LCL), and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).

The ACL and PCL stabilize the rotation of the knee, preventing it from sliding back and forth. The LCL and MCL, located on the sides of the knee, prevent the knee from sliding sideways. Injury to any of these can result in a loose knee which can buckle or give way. Most ligament injuries are caused by twisting, which can cause stretching or tears, called sprains. Minor stretches or partial tears are often treated by rest and stabilization with a brace or similar device, while complete tears may require surgery, and can make the knee more susceptible to future injury.

Another condition which can cause a loose knee is patellar tracking disorder, or a misaligned kneecap. This occurs when the kneecap shifts too far to the side of the leg when the leg is bending or straightening. The shifting can happen if the groove in the thigh bone in which the kneecap slides is too shallow, or if there is damage to the cartilage, tendons, ligaments or muscles that hold the kneecap in place. Some people may have a genetic tendency for developing patellar tracking disorder, though a severe blow to the side of the knee can also result in a misplaced knee cap.

In some cases, the displacement of the kneecap is obvious because the knee looks misshapen. Other symptoms include pain, an inability to straighten the knee, popping and clicking, and a feeling that the knee cannot support any weight. This condition can sometimes be treated with therapy. Ice and rest are used to reduce the swelling, then an exercise program designed to strengthen the muscles is recommended.

Surgery is usually not the first option chosen to repair a loose knee unless there is a complete tear of one of the ligaments. If surgery is required, it is always followed by an extensive period of physical therapy. There are a number of things that can be done to prevent a loose knee, however, such as moving the body when bending and lifting, rather than just twisting at the knee. Stretching before activities, maintaining a proper weight and regularly exercising to keep the muscles and tendons strong are also effective preventative measures.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon959954 — On Jul 08, 2014

I had a small accident before 1.8 years back. And my MRI report stated its laxity in ACL (left knee joint). My doctor sent me for some exercises. Now I am seeing my knee muscles decrease compared to my right knee.

By anon937097 — On Mar 03, 2014

I just had my PCL torn several days ago from jumping on the trampoline and it also put my knee out of its place. Now it is back in place. How long will this take if you have dislocated your knee and have a tornPCL? Is it a good idea to go to Europe in a month and half?

By anon322422 — On Feb 27, 2013

I have been able to pop my knees out of place since I was two. What do I do to fix this?

By anon320624 — On Feb 18, 2013

This has really cleared up my thoughts about what happens to my knee. I used to stretch all the time and it would be easy for my knee to pop out of place. I stopped stretching for a few years and my knee had stop popping out of place so frequently and then stopped all together. I started stretching again about six months ago and now my knee feels like its loose and will pop out of place. I wish there was a way that wouldn't happen.

By anon294378 — On Oct 01, 2012

I had bone surgery four months ago. My doctor said that my acl is damaged about 40 percent. I am taking physiotherapy exercise. Should I go for surgery to reduce the stiffness of my knee?

By anon256479 — On Mar 22, 2012

I have had a knee injury since june 2011, so it has been ike nine months. I cannot go back to playing football. My doctor told me I have an ACL tear, and he gave some exercises to do at home, including biking. It has improved a lot. I have been doing this exercise hard for nearly a month, and hope I will be back on the football field soon.

By anon205272 — On Aug 11, 2011

my right knee is loose. It has been since I was very young. Sometimes when I'm walking, if I happen to step on a little rock or something outside. Anything that might cause my leg to turn a certain way, my knee will go out or twist. That hurts so badly, but it doesn't happen too often.

By zenmaster — On Jan 01, 2011

Knee injuries are the worst! And what makes them so bad is that it's just so easy to injure the knee.

I have a friend who is a doctor, and he once took a plastic knee model and showed me all the different ways that a knee can actually be injured. It's amazing just how many ways you can injure your knee, and how easy it is to do some serious damage to such an important joint.

Kind of makes me want to avoid all stairs in the future -- I'd do anything to avoid the possibility of torn cartilage in my knee!

By musicshaman — On Dec 30, 2010

Oh, have you guys ever read the travel memoirs "No Touch Monkey?" The girl in that book has a case that sounds just like a loose knee after she falls down into a ravine in Thailand (I think it was Thailand). It's really hilarious the way she writes it, because the owner of the hostel where they're staying keeps trying to "massage" the joint with some kind of traditional medicine.

Eventually they end up getting a monk to come look at her, and he surprised her by gently stroking her leg, then suddenly jerking the kneecap back in place. It sound so, so incredibly painful, but apparently after he got it back in place she was back to normal.

Whenever I read about pain in the knee or any kind of knee strain, I always think of that story!

By Charlie89 — On Dec 27, 2010

Wow. That sounds unpleasant, to say the least. I can't imagine how freaked out I would be to see my kneecap suddenly on top of my thigh.

So how exactly does one do knee rehabilitation for a loose knee? It sounds like once you've got that knee cartilage tear or messed up ligament that there's really not that much you can do, because from what I understand, those things are like rubber bands -- if you stretch them too far, they can lose their "stretchiness," leaving you with a loose knee.

There's really no way to fix that just with exercise right? Or am I off the mark? I'd love to learn more about this topic. Thanks!

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