Knee Instability: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions

Do you feel like your knee is unstable? Do you feel the sensation that your knee “needs to pop?” Or are there even times when it feels like your knee has popped out of place? 

We are going to explore the structure of your knee, causes of knee instability and when you should come and see a sports medicine doctor at Primary Healthcare in Utah. 

A medical illustration with a photo of a leg with hands holding the knee. An illustration of the bones of the knee are on top.

Knee Physiology: A Quick Overview

If you are having knee issues, it is important to understand how your knee works. 

The knee is a hinge joint. It connects the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone) and the patella (knee cap). Several important structures help with the knees’ stability and function:

  • Ligaments: Several ligaments reinforced the knee including the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and lateral collateral ligament (LCL). These ligaments help maintain stability and prevent the knee from moving outside of what it is designed to do. 
  • Meniscus: Menisci are two wedge-shaped pieces of cartilage that act as cushions between the femur and tibia. They help absorb shock, give stability, and distribute weight. 
  • Muscles: The muscles of your leg including the quadriceps and hamstrings, are an important of giving your knees stability and support and controlling movement. 

Related Content: Understanding Hyperextended Knees

Why does it feel like my knee needs to pop? 

There are a few things that might be causing the feeling that your knee needs to pop. 

Ligament injury: If one or more of your knee ligaments is damaged, your joint is lacking support and can cause knee dislocation.

Meniscal Tears: The meniscus helps your knee joint to glide. If there are tears in this cartilage it could cause feelings of instability or make it feel like you need to pop your knee. 

Muscle Weakness: If one or more of the muscles that support your knee are weak or injured, your knee might feel less stable and like you need to pop it. 

Why does my knee pop out of place? What do I do when my knee pops out of place? 

A more concerning aspect of knee instability is when the knee actually “pops out of place.” This is termed knee dislocation or subluxation. This can occur because of: 

  • Severe Ligament Injury: A significant injury to multiple knee ligaments, such as the ACL and PCL, can lead to the knee momentarily popping out of its normal position.
  • Patellar Dislocation: The patella (or kneecap)  can dislocate, causing the knee to feel unstable and potentially pop out. If this happens often, you might have a predisposition for patellar instability. 
A photo of a doctor examining a male knee.

Management and Treatment of Knee Instability

If you knee feels like it needs to pop or has popped out of place, you should visit a sports medicine physician at Primary Healthcare Utah. 

Dr. Kevin Mangum is a board certified Sports Medicine Physician. He has experience treating joint and muscle injuries and chronic issues. 

When you visit Primary Healthcare for an injured knee, we will address it with a comprehensive approach including: 

  • Evaluation: A thorough physical examination. Additionally, imaging, such as MRI or X-rays, to help diagnose the cause and severity of knee instability.
  • Non-surgical treatments: Conservative treatments include physical therapy, bracing, and muscle-strengthening exercises to improve knee stability.
  • Surgical Intervention: In cases of severe ligament damage or recurrent dislocations, surgical options like ligament reconstruction or patellar realignment may be necessary. Dr. Mangum will refer you to his network of exceptional orthopedic surgeons if surgical intervention is needed,

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Key Takeaways: 

If you are having problems with your knee the sports medicine physicians at Primary Healthcare can help you. We can address issues including instability, and the feeling that your knee “needs to pop.”

Dr. Mangum will perform a thorough physical evaluation. He will determine the underlying causes of your problem and recommend treatments to help you with your knee problems. 
Primary Healthcare can help you regain knee stability and return to an active and pain-free life. Schedule an appointment online at or by calling (801) 758-8735.

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