Your kneecap (patella) is a thick, round bone that covers and protects the front portion of your knee joint. It moves along a groove in your thighbone (femur) as part of the patellofemoral joint. A layer of cartilage surrounds the underside of your kneecap. This layer protects it from grinding against your femur.
When this cartilage softens and breaks down, it can cause knee pain. This is partly due to repetitive stress. The stress irritates the lining of the joint, and this causes pain in the underlying bone.
Knee pain is very common, especially in highly active people who put a lot of pressure on their knees, like runners. It affects women more often than men.
Several different overlapping causes contribute to knee pain. Some of these include:
You might be at increased risk of knee pain if you:
You can’t modify many of these risk factors. Losing weight and correcting excess muscle tightness or muscle weakness may help decrease your risk.
This type of knee pain is characterized by a dull, aching pain in the front of the knee in the area under and around the kneecap. This pain may start quickly or slowly. Your pain might be worse when you squat, run, or sit for a long time. You might also sometimes feel like your knee is giving out. You might have symptoms in one or both of your knees.
Your doctor will begin with a medical history and ask about your other medical problems as well as your current symptoms. Be sure to describe any activities that aggravate your knee pain.
You’ll have a thorough medical exam of your knee. This will include tests of your range of motion, strength, and areas of tenderness of your knee. Your doctor will also assess your knee alignment. Your doctor will need to rule out other possible causes of your knee pain, like arthritis or instability.
Usually, you will not need any additional tests. If your diagnosis is unclear, you might need additional imaging tests, like an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to rule out other possible causes.
Your doctor might suggest several different treatment strategies to help relieve your symptoms. These might include:
These steps help most people manage knee pain. Your doctor might recommend surgery if you still have significant symptoms after 6 months of trying these other therapies. Depending on the underlying cause of your knee pain, your doctor might suggest one of several surgical options, like surgically realigning your kneecap. You can discuss all of your surgical options with your orthopedic surgeon.
In some cases, you can prevent knee pain. To help prevent a flare-up of knee pain, you can take the following precautions:
If your symptoms do not start to improve after several weeks of treatment, see your doctor. You may have a different kind of problem with your knee.
Knee pain is a common medical condition. Irritation to the tissue around the kneecap causes the condition. Excess repetitive stress makes knee pain much more likely to occur.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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