The patella, or kneecap, is one of three bones, along with the tibia (shin bone) and femur (thigh bone), that make up the knee joint. All of these bones are covered with a layer of cartilage at points where their surfaces come into contact. Furthermore, the patella is wrapped within a tendon. This tendon connects the quadriceps muscle of the thigh to the shin bone (tibia) below the knee joint.
The patella is important functionally because it increases the leverage of the knee joint. From a mechanical perspective, the patella allows for an increase of about 30% in strength of extension (kicking) of the leg at the knee joint.
Symptoms of Kneecap Problems
Problems with the kneecap typically cause pain felt directly around the kneecap. Often these symptoms are noticed doing specific activities:
- Walking stairs (particularly down)
- Prolonged sitting
There are several common problems associated with the kneecap that can cause problems and pain in the knee
Chondromalacia Patellae (Runner’s Knee)
The most common disorder is known as chondromalacia, often called Runner’s Knee. Chondromalacia occurs because of irritation of the cartilage on the undersurface of the kneecap.
Prepatellar Bursitis (Housemaid’s Knee)
Prepatellar bursitis, or Housemaid’s Knee Syndrome, is a condition of swelling and inflammation over the front of the knee. This is commonly seen in patients who kneel for extended periods, such as carpet layers and gardeners.
Also called an unstable kneecap, patients who experience this painful knee condition have a patella that does not track evenly within its groove on the femur.
When the kneecap comes completely out of its groove, the condition is called a patella dislocation. When the kneecap dislocates, it must be put back into its groove.
Treatment of Kneecap Problems
Treatment of these various kneecap conditions depends on the diagnosis, however there are some general guidelines that can be followed. For more information, and for a diagnosis of your knee pain, it is important to see your doctor.
Resting the injured knee to allow time for inflammation to subside is very important. Cross-training will allow you to keep in shape. When you do return to activity, do so gradually.
- Physical Therapy
Physical therapy is very important to balance the strength of the muscles around the knee joint. Most importantly, the quad and hamstring muscle groups should be flexible and balanced.
- Ice the Injury
Apply ice to the knee to cool down inflammation in stimulate blood flow to the area. Be careful not to ice too much!
- Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Anti-inflammatory medications may help with inflammation and will also help alleviate some of the pain associated with patella conditions.
- Arthroscopic Surgery
While surgery is seldom needed because of a kneecap problem, arthroscopy is a treatment option if the problem is not getting any better with conservative treatment.
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