Treatment Options for Kneecap Problems

Share Article

Dr. Kevin Plancher with Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine explains conditions affecting the kneecap and offers tips on how they’re treated.

Dr. Kevin Plancher

A surprising number of conditions can cause pain around the kneecap, the vast majority of which successfully resolve with non-operative treatment.

It’s safe to say that most of us don’t notice our kneecaps – known medically as the patella – unless one of them hurts. But a surprising number of conditions can cause pain around the kneecap, the vast majority of which successfully resolve with non-operative treatment, according to orthopaedic surgeon Kevin D. Plancher, MD, founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.

The patella bone is one of three bones comprising the knee joint, along with the shin bone (tibia) and thigh bone (femur). All are covered in a layer of cartilage where these bone surfaces meet each other. Additionally, the kneecap is wrapped within a tendon connecting the quadriceps muscle of the thigh to the shine bone below the knee.

Considering how central the kneecap is to the knee itself, it’s easy to see how pain can result from any one of these connections going awry. And while the patella can be removed – something rarely done –because it is not easy to live without it, Dr. Plancher says.

“The kneecap is important to the knee’s function because it increases the knee joint’s leverage,” he explains. “In fact, the patella increases the strength of our ability to kick by about 30%.”

Common kneecap conditions
How would you know if your kneecap were hurt? The resulting pain around the knee would show up in activities such as walking up or down stairs, sitting for prolonged periods, or kneeling, says Dr. Plancher, who lectures globally on issues related to orthopaedic procedures and sports injury management.

This pain or discomfort can signal a wide variety of kneecap conditions. According to Dr. Plancher, they include:

  • Runner’s knee: Known medically as chondromalacia patellae, this is the most common disorder affecting the kneecap, occurring due to irritation of the cartilage under it.
  • Housemaid’s knee: Called prepatellar bursitis, this syndrome causes swelling and inflammation around the front of the knee and is commonly seen in people who kneel for extended periods.
  • Unstable kneecap: Also known as patellar subluxation, this condition is caused by a kneecap that doesn’t track evenly within its groove on the femur bone which now recognized more commonly.
  • Dislocated kneecap: This problem can be caused by a sudden injury, which causes the kneecap to come completely out of its groove.
  • Patellar tendon tear: This is another condition that can result from a serious injury, happening when the tendon joining the kneecap to the shin ruptures and almost always requires surgery to fix it.

Diagnosing the exact kneecap problem typically involves a thorough physical exam – including questions about the severity and nature of pain – along with checking the knee’s alignment and stability, Dr. Plancher notes. X-rays may be used to help discern any damage to the knee’s structure.

How patella problems are treated
Treating any of these kneecap conditions depends, of course, on the exact diagnosis. But for the vast majority of patella problems, one or more conservative therapies often bring relief. These at-home treatments include:

  • Rest: Avoiding any knee-straining activities is the way to go, at least in the short term. Resting the injured knee enables inflammation to die down, and your return to normal activity should be gradual.
  • Ice: Applying cold compresses to the injured kneecap will also help reduce inflammation.
  • Medications: Pain relievers such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) not only take the edge off discomfort, but reduce inflammation as well. Over-the-counter options include ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Brace: Bracing or taping the kneecap can alter its alignment or the way the patella moves, reducing pain. Shoe inserts can also be used for this purpose, taking stress off the lower leg.
  • Physical therapy: A course of physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles around the knee joint and maintain flexibility in adjoining muscle groups.
  • New Treatments – Stem cell & PRP: Many studies are underway and physicians are currently using these treatments now with professional athletes.

Surgery is seldom used to correct kneecap problems, but may be considered if conservative measures fail and the kneecap could benefit from being surgically stabilized or resurfaced, Dr. Plancher says.

“Most kneecap procedures can be done with minimally invasive techniques, speeding recovery,” he adds. “But regardless of how kneecap problems are tackled, most patients can look forward to moving about freely and without pain in the near future.”

Kevin D. Plancher, MD, is a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and the founder of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine.

Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine is a comprehensive orthopaedics and sports medicine practice with offices in New York City and Greenwich, CT.

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Melissa Chefec
+1 (203) 968-6625
Email >
Visit website