Treatment Options for Kneecap Problems

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…

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