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Why Does the Front of My Knee Hurt?
Why Does the Front of My Knee Hurt?

Front of My Knee Hurt

There are many conditions that can cause the front of your knee to hurt. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), also known as anterior knee pain syndrome, is a common culprit behind knee pain, especially around the kneecap. It's a frustrating condition that can limit your mobility and sideline you from activities you enjoy. We discuss this condition below as it affects many active individuals, including runners, gym goers, and adolescents.

What is PFPS?

PFPS refers to pain in the front of the knee, specifically around the kneecap (patella). The kneecap glides in a groove (trochlea) along the thigh bone (femur) during knee movement. In PFPS, this gliding can become irritated, causing pain.

What are the Symptoms?

The most common sign of PFPS is a dull, aching pain around the kneecap. This pain often worsens with activities that put stress on the knee joint, such as:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Squatting
  • Climbing stairs
  • Sitting for extended periods with bent knees

You might also experience:

  • Stiffness in the knee, especially after prolonged inactivity
  • Grinding or clicking sensation during knee movement
  • Difficulty kneeling

What Causes PFPS?

The exact cause of PFPS remains elusive, but several factors are likely culprits:

  • Overuse: Activities that repetitively stress the kneecap, like running or jumping, can irritate the surrounding tissues.
  • Muscle imbalances or weakness: Weak or imbalanced muscles around the hip and knee can cause the kneecap to track improperly, leading to pain.
  • Misalignment: Bony structural abnormalities can affect how the kneecap tracks.
  • Previous injury: Trauma to the kneecap or surrounding structures can increase your risk of PFPS.

Who's at Risk?

PFPS is most common in young adults, particularly females. However, it can affect people of all ages and activity levels. Certain factors increase your risk, such as:

  • Participating in sports that involve a lot of running or jumping (basketball, volleyball)
  • Having tight hamstrings or quadriceps muscles
  • Flat feet or other foot abnormalities
  • Sudden increase in activity level

Treating PFPS

The good news is that PFPS is often treatable with non-surgical methods. Here are some approaches to consider:

  • Rest: Reduce activities that aggravate the pain. This doesn't mean complete immobilization, but opting for low-impact activities like swimming or cycling during the initial phase.
  • Ice: Apply ice packs to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day, to reduce inflammation.
  • Compression: Wearing a compression sleeve can help reduce swelling and provide support.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to strengthen the muscles around the knee and hip, improve flexibility, and correct any imbalances that contribute to PFPS.
  • Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain and inflammation.

When to See a Doctor

If your knee pain persists despite rest and conservative treatment, consult a board certified sports medicine physician. They can perform a thorough examination and recommend the most appropriate treatment course for you. In rare cases, surgery might be an option if conservative measures fail to provide relief.