Anterior knee pain
Anterior knee pain is pain that occurs at the front and center of the knee. It can be caused by many different problems, including:
Patellofemoral syndrome; Chondromalacia patella; Runner's knee; Patellar tendinitis; Jumper's knee
Your kneecap (patella) sits over the front of your knee joint. As you bend or straighten your knee, the underside of the patella glides over the bones that make up the knee.
Strong tendons help attach the kneecap to the bones and muscles that surround the knee. These tendons are called:
Anterior knee pain begins when the kneecap does not move properly and rubs against the lower part of the thigh bone. This may occur because:
Anterior knee pain is more common in:
Other possible causes of anterior knee pain include:
Anterior knee pain is a dull, aching pain that is most often felt:
One common symptom is a grating or grinding feeling when the knee is flexed (when the ankle is brought closer to the back of the thigh).
Symptoms may be more noticeable with:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. The knee may be tender and mildly swollen. Also, the kneecap may not be perfectly lined up with the thigh bone (femur).
When you flex your knee, you may feel a grinding feeling below the kneecap. Pressing the kneecap when the knee is straightening out may be painful.
Your provider may want you to do a single leg squat to look at muscle imbalance and your core stability.
X-rays are very often normal. However, a special x-ray view of the kneecap may show signs of arthritis or tilting.
MRI scans are rarely needed.
Resting the knee for a short period of time and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin may help relieve pain.
Other things you can do to relieve anterior knee pain include:
Rarely, surgery for pain behind the kneecap is needed. During the surgery:
Anterior knee pain often improves with a change in activity, exercise therapy, and the use of NSAIDs.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you have symptoms of this disorder.
McCoy BW, Hussain WM, Griesser MJ, Parker RD. Patellofemoral pain. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee & Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 105.
Tan EW, Cosgarea AJ. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR eds. Patellar instability. DeLee & Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 104.
Review Date: 11/20/2017
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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