Surgical treatment of patellar dislocations, acute and chronic, has evolved significantly over the past decade with the advance of biomechanical knowledge of patellofemoral restraints and injury patterns identified by physical examination and improved imaging techniques. There continues to be no consensus on treatment parameters. Despite the presence of predisposing factors, such as dysplasia or generalized hyperlaxity, medial retinacular injury associated with primary (first-time) patellar dislocations represents a ligament injury, which may result in residual laxity of the injured structure. This residual laxity is defined objectively by an increase in passive lateral excursion of the patella. Repair or reconstructive procedures to restore this medial constraint is considered paramount in any procedure to stabilize the patella against subsequent dislocations. How best to accomplish this continues to be a matter of debate. The establishment of a medial check-rein by either repairing or reconstructing the MPFL is the procedure of choice for stabilizing a kneecap after first-time dislocation, largely because the literature to date does not provide clear guidelines about when more extensive surgery is indicated. Whether or not all first-time dislocators have improved outcome after surgical repair remains speculative, however. Improved outcome would involve both the elimination of recurrent instability episodes and continued satisfactory function of this patella in activities-of-daily-living and sporting activities. These outcomes have not been studied critically in operative versus nonoperative treatment of first-time patellar dislocation. For the first-time dislocator, most investigators would agree that an arthroscopy should be performed if intra-articular chondral damage is suspected. Nonoperative management of first-time patellar dislocations continues to be the preferred practice pattern in the United States. If surgical management is elected, because of individual characteristics of the injury pattern or the patient's lifestyle, it is important to inspect the MPFL along its length and repair any or all ligamentous disruptions. If the ligament is avulsed from the medial epicondyle, reattachment to bone is necessary to restore passive restraint to lateral patella motion. MRI may be useful in order to identify the location and degree of medial soft tissue injury preoperatively. The establishment of a medial check-rein by either repairing or reconstructing the MPFL is a necessary component of all surgical procedures performed to correct objective lateral instability of the patella. The addition of a LRR should be additive to this procedure only when it facilitates other procedures to recenter the patella or when objective lateral tilt by physical examination measurements is present. A practical approach to surgery after patellar dislocation is the minimal amount of surgery necessary to re-establish objective constraints of the patella. Correcting dysplastic factors, in particular tibial tubercle transfers and trochleoplasties, are best reserved if more minimal surgery has failed. This failure is defined as continued functional instability of the kneecap.