The message Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes posted on Instagram following the scary knee injury he suffered during last Sunday’s 30-6 win against divisional rival Denver Broncos is what you’d hope to see from your All-Pro quarterback: “God was watching over me on that field! My brothers held it down! We keep it moving forward!”

The 24-year-old phenom dislocated his kneecap after running a quarterback sneak for a first down in the second quarter. Trainers rushed in and reportedly shifted his patella back into place on the field—which more than likely is just as uncomfortable as it sounds—so Mahomes could walk off, and his night was over.  

Less than a week ago, all signs pointed to a worst-case scenario of several weeks for Mahomes’ recovery. But for how long Mahomes will be out keeps changing, and on Wednesday,’s Kevin Patra reported that Mahomes’ knee has been “progressing nicely” with tests suggesting no further damage to the knee. Mahomes even participated in Wednesday’s practice. Coach Andy Reid hasn’t entirely ruled out Mahomes playing in Sunday night’s matchup against the Green Bay Packers, though backup QB Matt Moore was scheduled to get most of the reps in practice.

So how serious is the type of dislocated kneecap Mahomes suffered? We turned to William O. Roberts, MD, MS, a professor of family medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine, to find out. An expert on these types of injuries (though he hasn’t treated the QB), he believes that Mahomes was very fortunate that his injury was not serious enough to require surgery. Below, Roberts explains the ways a dislocated kneecap can occur, typical recovery strategies, and ways to avoid suffering this type of injury yourself.

 Deion Sanders' Secrets to Staying Fitter Than Ever at 50

Deion Sanders’ Secrets to Staying Fitter Tha...

Deion Sanders is still looking Neon at age 50—and that’s no accident.

Read article


According to Roberts, the kneecap is what’s known as a “sesamoid” bone, which develops in a tendon to improve the mechanical advantage and protect the tendon. In the case of the knee, it’s the patella serving this function in the quadriceps tendon, which in turn hooks onto the lower leg bone, or tibia.

“The patella usually dislocates—slips out of its normal position—laterally to the outside of the knee,” he explains. “This can damage the underside of the kneecap, usually on the middle edge of the kneecap as it strikes the underlying femur bone, or tear the tissue on the middle side of the kneecap as the patella moves out of its usual position.” Luckily for Mahomes, his particular dislocation wasn’t severe enough to require surgery, which is needed if a piece of bone actually breaks off or loosens within the joint, or the tissue is torn so much that it has to be surgically repaired.


All in all, Roberts says, the key is time—and he warns that full recovery usually takes longer than the reigning MVP may be afforded by the demands to return to action. “Soft tissue healing generally takes 12 weeks, and the time will be prolonged by repeat injury,” Roberts says, adding that rehab could include strategies to reduce any swelling, range of motion work, and strengthening exercises. Along those lines, within days of the injury, the head athletic trainer of the Chiefs, Rick Burkholder, said Mahomes had already been doing pool therapy, which offers the ability to work against the resistance of water without the impacts of a land-based workout.


While Roberts sticks to that three-month recovery period as “ideal” for most of us, professional athletes such as Mahomes who have access to all sorts of potential therapies, could have a leg up. “We have all seen what seem like superhuman recoveries in elite athletes,” he admits. “Some may be truly healed, while some may be playing the odds of being good enough play effectively and better than the next person on the depth chart—which is a gamble in my book.”


Whether you’re the reigning NFL MVP like Mahomes or a grinder on your corporate flag football team, the chances of suffering a dislocated kneecap often boil down to bad luck.

“Maybe you get hit at a risky angle at the wrong time during your knee joint movement,” Roberts says. Genetics can be against you, too. “Some people have a shallow groove that the patella sits in and the patella is more easily pushed aside,” he says.

If you end up dislocating your kneecap, get immediate medical treatment, of course, and be ready to enlist a physical therapist who can lead you through the healing and recovery process. Beyond that, making sure you develop balanced strength in your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes can help create a more durable knee joint to perhaps increase your chances of sidestepping the injury down the road—as Roberts points out, “A stable quad is needed to protect the knee and to run.”