Pain on top of the kneecap, also known as anterior knee pain or patellofemoral pain, is a common complaint that can affect individuals of all ages and activity levels.
This article aims to shed light on the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for this type of knee pain, helping individuals better understand and manage their condition.
Patellofemoral Syndrome (PFS)
PFS is the most prevalent cause of pain on top of the kneecap and often occurs due to imbalances in the muscles surrounding the knee, improper alignment of the patella (kneecap), or overuse injuries.
Overuse and Excessive Stress
Repetitive activities like running, jumping, or excessive kneeling can strain the patellofemoral joint, leading to pain.
Weakness or tightness in the muscles surrounding the knee, such as the quadriceps and hip muscles, can contribute to abnormal patellar tracking and pain.
Trauma or Injury
Direct impact, falls, or sudden twisting motions can result in damage to the structures around the knee, causing pain on top of the kneecap.
Structural abnormalities, such as a tilted or misaligned patella, can lead to increased stress on the joint and subsequent pain.
Pain on top of the kneecap can also be a result of patellofemoral osteoarthritis, due in turn to a wearing down of the joint cartilage in that area of the knee.
To accurately diagnose the cause of pain on top of the kneecap, a healthcare professional may perform the following assessments:
Medical History and Physical Examination
A detailed discussion about symptoms, medical history, and a thorough physical examination helps identify potential causes.
X-rays, MRI scans, or ultrasound may be conducted to evaluate the knee’s internal structures, ruling out fractures, dislocations, or other underlying issues.
Assessing movement patterns, muscle strength, flexibility, and balance can help identify muscle imbalances and biomechanical issues.
Treatment Options for Pain on Top of the Kneecap
Rest and Activity Modification
Taking a break from activities that worsen the pain and modifying activities to reduce stress on the knee can aid in recovery.
A physical therapist can design an exercise program to improve muscle strength, flexibility, and correct biomechanical imbalances. This may include targeted exercises, stretches, and techniques to improve patellar tracking.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or pain relievers may be recommended to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.
Orthotics and Bracing
Custom orthotic inserts or knee braces can provide support, improve alignment, and reduce pain during activities.
Rest, ice, compression, and elevation can help reduce pain and inflammation in the acute phase of injury.
In severe cases, when conservative measures aren’t effective, corticosteroid injections may be considered to provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation.
In rare cases, when other treatments fail to alleviate symptoms, surgical options such as arthroscopic procedures may be explored to address underlying structural issues.
Prevention and Rehabilitation
To prevent future episodes of pain on top of the kneecap, it is essential to maintain proper conditioning, strengthen the surrounding muscles, practice good biomechanics during physical activities, and gradually increase intensity or duration of exercises.
A physical therapist can guide individuals through specific exercises and techniques to prevent recurrence and promote long-term knee health.
Pain on top of the kneecap can significantly impact an individual’s daily activities and athletic performance.
However, by understanding the underlying causes, seeking appropriate diagnosis, and following a comprehensive treatment plan involving rest, physical therapy, pain management, and in some cases, medical interventions, individuals can find relief and regain optimal knee function.
Early intervention, preventive measures, and ongoing rehabilitation can help individuals manage their knee pain effectively and return to their desired level of activity. Consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.