Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

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Overview of Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

Medial patella luxation (MPL) is a condition in which the patella (knee-cap) no longer glides within its natural groove (sulcus) in the femur, the upper bone of the knee joint. It becomes displaced to the inside of the joint and can be partial or complete, intermittent or permanent.

MPL can occur as a result of trauma or develop during the first year of an animal’s life. Congenital or developmental MPL is more common. It is most commonly found in a wide variety of small dogs such as poodles, Yorkshire terriers, Maltese and bichon frise, but it also occurs in larger breeds. Animals may present when they are young, during the first year of life, particularly if the abnormality is severe, or any time later in their life if the problem is lower grade and leads to a more progressive, chronic lameness. Traumatic patella luxation can of course occur at any age and is usually secondary to being hit by a car.

What to Watch For

Lameness can vary from an occasional hitch of the leg, like an intermittent skipping, to a persistent weight bearing lameness. Traumatic luxations are more likely to result in a non-weight bearing lameness.

Diagnosis of Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

Physical examination is a crucial part of diagnosis. Your veterinarian will observe your dog both walking and trotting. In a standing position, the knee joint of the affected leg is compared to the opposite side.

Your veterinarian will put the knee joint through a normal range of motion to feel the tracking of the patella during flexion and extension of the joint. Dependent on the severity of the problem the patella may move only slightly toward the inner aspect of the joint or may pop completely and audibly out of position.

X-rays of the knee can be helpful in documenting the luxation.

Treatment of Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

  • Low grade MPL may be managed conservatively with restricted exercise and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.
  • More severe grades of MPL should be addressed surgically. There are a variety of surgical options dependent on which factors within and around the knee joint that are contributing to the luxation.
  • Home Care and Prevention

    Following surgery many small dogs are sent home with the leg in a soft padded bandage. This should be kept clean and dry at all times and the toes at the bottom of the bandage checked twice daily for swelling and/or pain.

    Most animals require exercise restriction for the first four to six weeks following surgery. The bandage and stitches are removed at 10 to 14 days. Passive flexion and extension of the knee can be helpful to reduce joint stiffness.

    Congenital luxation is commonly a bilateral problem, that is it affects both hind legs, though not necessarily to the same degree. When selecting a dog, ask the breeder about the history of patella problems in the bloodline.

    In-depth Information on Medial Patella Luxation (MPL) in Dogs

    Related Symptoms or Diseases

    There are many other causes of lameness referable to the knee joint, and your veterinarian considers these during the history taking and the physical examination. Some examples include the following:

  • Lateral patella luxation. This will present with exactly the same clinical signs as a medial patella luxation but the displacement is to the outside rather than the inside of the knee. This disorder occurs more frequently in larger breeds of dog.
  • Cranial cruciate ligament rupture. Like patella luxation this injury may result from an acute traumatic event or develop as a chronic lower grade lameness. It is not uncommon to have combinations of patella luxation and a torn cranial cruciate ligament.
  • Collateral ligament injury. The collateral ligaments are located on the inner (medial) aspect and outer (lateral) aspect of the knee joint. They are most commonly injured in major trauma to the whole joint called stifle luxation or a deranged stifle. The medial collateral ligament and the cranial cruciate ligament are often both torn together with damage to the cartilage shock absorber, the meniscus, that lies between the two major bones of the knee joint. The patella is not normally affected in this injury.
  • Patella fractures are uncommon and would present as an acute traumatic lameness, usually as a result of a direct blow.
  • Patella tendon rupture is even less common and results in the patella being displaced above the knee joint, not out to one side or the other.

    In-depth Information on Diagnosis

  • Following a general medical history your veterinarian will ask questions concerning the nature of your pet’s lameness. This will include:
  • What is the duration?
  • Does the lameness vary or stay the same? Worse in the morning or at night? Worse when your pet first gets up after lying down or worse after exercise?
  • Is there a hopping or skipping component to the gait? Perhaps your dog runs, then hitches up the leg for a few steps and then places it down again and carries on as normal.
  • Is one side worse than the other?
  • Is the problem getting worse?
  • Does the problem improve with rest?

    With an acute patella luxation the lameness is usually the result of trauma and so this questioning is not so important as the physical examination. With a chronic patella luxation, the lameness usually varies, is often worse when first getting up after lying down, may produce some skipping during exercise or low grade partial weight bearing lameness that is slowly becoming more noticeable and does not change much despite rest.

    Your veterinarian will ask you to walk and then trot your dog, in order to observe the lameness. With your pet in a standing position, the affected side will be compared to the opposite side for muscle wasting, patella position while standing, swelling of the knee joint, thickening of the joint, position and thickness of the patella tendon and its attachment to the tibia, the bone below the joint.

    The stifle joint will be put through a normal range of motion, paying particular attention to the tracking of the patella through its groove and the ability to push the knee cap in or out of its normal position manually.

    The knee will be assessed for abnormal motion such as side to side looseness or laxity due to collateral damage, and front to back laxity or “drawer” due to a damaged cranial cruciate ligament.

    The patella luxation will be assigned a grade, from 1, being mild and without clinical signs, through 4, being severe with a permanently displaced patella. Dogs with grades 2, 3 and 4 are often candidates for surgery.

    All other joints, bones and soft tissues on the affected side are also palpated and put through a normal range of motion to ensure the problem is isolated to the knee. X-rays of the affected knee are not always essential but may be helpful to evaluate bony deformity and arthritic change as a result of the luxation. X-rays are important following traumatic luxation of the patella, to ensure that the bones around the joint are not fractured.

    In-depth Information on Treatment 

  • Dogs with low grade MPL should be managed conservatively with a period of rest and a short course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents. If the lameness persists or worsens they should be re-evaluated.
  • Some dogs will fall into a gray zone, with grade 2 or even 3 MPL but minimal clinical signs. If the lameness is occasional and not progressive then surgery is probably not indicated. But where this grade is associated with a more marked lameness or serial X-rays that show significant progression of arthritis, surgery would be appropriate.
  • There are a variety of surgical techniques available, but they all aim to restore the patella to tracking permanently in its correct plane within the groove (sulcus) of the femur. To achieve this goal the groove may be artificially deepened either by abrading the existing surface or cutting a v-shaped wedge into the bone. The joint capsule surrounding the knee may be too tight on the inside, pulling the patella in that direction, and so may need to be loosened while the opposite side of the capsule is tightened. Finally, the attachment of the patella itself may deviate to the medial or inner aspect of the tibia, and therefore need to be restored to a straight attachment. This is usually achieved by cutting the tendon at its bony interface and fixing this with pins and wire into a new straighter location on the tibia.
  • Home Care for Dogs with Medial Patella Luxation (MPL)

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