Medical causes of front of knee pain
Front of knee pain is also called anterior knee pain. There isn’t a quick fix. In most cases, you’ll need to put in the time and effort to strengthen your surrounding muscles and correct the lifestyle habits that lead to the pain.
Front of knee pain can have many different causes — all with their own treatments. It’s best to talk to your doctor or get help from a physical therapist if your knee pain lasts for a long time or is interfering with your daily life.
To properly treat your front of knee pain, you need to understand the cause. Several medical conditions could be behind your knee pain. These include:
- Tendinitis. Many tendons attach your kneecap to other parts of your knee joint and the surrounding leg bones. These can become inflamed from repeated stress to the area, causing anterior knee pain near the damaged tendon.
- Patellofemoral syndrome. This is the most common reason for front of knee pain. The pain is near the top of the knee. It usually happens when your thighs are weak and lead to a misalignment between the thigh bone and kneecap.
- Arthritis. The most common kind is osteoarthritis. This is when the cartilage that protects the knee joint becomes worn down. In this case, the pain might be in both of your knees and even other joints.
- Bursitis. This is an inflammation of soft sacks of cushioning fluid within your knee joint. The pain might also be accompanied by swelling at the joint.
Once your doctor has examined your knee and determined your underlying problem, they can help you decide on the best treatment plan for you.
Lifestyle changes to fix front of knee pain
Day-to-day activities and lifestyle choices often cause the medical conditions listed above. If you can identify any particular activities that seem to be causing your knee pain, you can modify them or eliminate them from your life. This is often the single most helpful step you can take to reduce your knee pain.
Possible causes from your daily life include:
- Repetitive, high-impact activities like running and jumping
- Loss of strength or conditioning in your thigh muscles
- Overuse in training programs without enough stretching
- Being overweight
- Wearing shoes that don’t properly support your body — like high heels and unarched flats
- Kneeling frequently for work
Examples of changes you can make to modify these habits include:
- Substituting low-impact exercises, like swimming and biking, for high-impact activities
- Changing your eating and exercise habits to lose weight
- Using arch supports to fix problematic footwear
- Consistently applying ice or rounds of ice and a heating pad to your knee when you know you’ve overused it
- Taking frequent breaks and using handrails when climbing stairs to avoid overusing your knee joint
Medical treatments for front of knee pain
Over-the-counter medicine — like ibuprofen — can be helpful no matter what is causing your knee pain. Your doctor could also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications to help with the symptoms of osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Physical therapy or surgery is also helpful treatment techniques that your doctor could recommend. The exact medical treatment that your doctor recommends will depend on a number of factors such as your age, activity levels, other medications you take, and other medical conditions you have.
Exercises for front of knee pain
One of the most effective treatments for all forms of front of knee pain is to strengthen your surrounding muscles. This relieves pressure from your knee and will help keep the pain from returning.
You may want to consult a physical therapist so they can design an exercise routine that’s specific to the cause of your knee pain. But, in general, there are many helpful exercises you can try at home.
Your at-home exercise routine should focus on both stretching and strengthening your muscles — particularly your quadriceps at the front of your thighs.
An example exercise for stretching quadriceps:
- Stand with your feet flat and shoulder-width apart — possibly with a chair back in front of you to hold onto
- Begin to lift one leg back toward your buttocks, bending at the knee
- Grab your foot with one hand and move your leg further back until you feel a stretch at the front of your thigh
- Hold for 15 seconds and repeat three times for each leg
An example exercise for strengthening quadriceps:
- Lay on your back with one knee bent and one leg straight
- Raise your straight leg by tightening your quadriceps until it’s level with your bent knee — keep your toes pointed upwards
- Lower the leg back down and relax your muscles
- Repeat 25 times on each side
The Archives of Bone and Knee Surgery: "The Effect of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome on Gait Parameters: A Literature Review."
Journal of Pain Research: "Knee osteoarthritis: pathophysiology and current treatment modalities."
NHS Ayrshire and Arran: "Anterior knee pain."
OrthoInfo: "Adolescent Anterior Knee Pain."
The Portland Clinic: "Anterior Knee Pain (AKP) Handout."
University of Michigan Health: "Knee Problems and Injuries."
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