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What are the Causes of Kneecap Pain?

By Pranav Reddy
Updated May 17, 2024
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Kneecap pain is a common symptom that can have a variety of reasons. The kneecap, also known as the patella, is a rounded bone on the front of the knee that increases stability and control during movement. This allows a person to sit, stand, and perform a number of other daily activities with relative ease. Problems with the kneecap do arise, however, and can be the result of any number of things, from damage resulting from repetitive motion to injuries resulting from physical activity.

One common cause of kneecap pain is the degeneration of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. This condition is called chondromalacia patellae and is caused by repetitive knee strain, making this condition common in athletes. In most cases, the primary symptom of this condition is a sharp pain during knee movement; the pain results from the constant pull of the quadriceps muscle that forces the kneecap to push against the bones of the knee. This pain can usually be relieved by keeping the knee fully extended in a straight position.

Another common cause of kneecap pain is prepatellar bursitis, also known as housemaid’s knee. The condition is primarily the result of placing pressure and friction on the kneecap while kneeling for extended periods. This causes the inflammation of a small fluid-filled sac within the knee called the bursa. The swelling of the bursa directly causes kneecap pain and can usually be treated with ice and rest.

Patellar subluxation or dislocation, also known as an unstable kneecap, is another common cause of kneecap pain. This painful condition is primarily the result of a kneecap that does not fit the groove, called the trochlea, of the femur. Thus, the kneecap does not slide evenly and can cause discomfort or pain on the sides of the kneecap.

There are also many other different conditions and factors that could result in kneecap pain. For example, arthritis, cold temperatures, diabetes, trauma, and previous injuries could all cause, or help contribute to, kneecap pain. In addition, most strenuous physical activity will put immense amounts of stress on your knees, which can persist for many years. Even with all the possible causes, a physician should be able to determine the underlying cause of the kneecap pain and apply the proper treatment. In most cases, kneecap pain can be treated with rest, ice, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and, in the most severe cases, arthroscopic surgery.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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