What Causes Anterior Knee Pain?

Dan Cavallari

Anterior knee pain, or pain that occurs in the front of the knee, can occur for several reasons, including muscle strains, tendon inflammation, kneecap dislocation, arthritis, cartilage damage, ligament sprains, and overuse of the joint. The term "runner's knee" is often used to describe anterior knee pain because such pain often occurs in people who participate in running sports, though such pain can occur in anyone, regardless of physical activity. Most injuries to the knee can be treated simply and easily, though more severe or chronic problems may need to be treated surgically.

A close up of the knee, with the ligaments in pink.
A close up of the knee, with the ligaments in pink.

One of the most common causes of anterior knee pain is tendinitis. This occurs when tendons that connect muscles to bone become inflamed, causing anterior knee pain or other types of knee pain. Tendinitis can occur as a result of overuse of the leg muscles and joints, or it can occur as a result of another issue within the knee, such as bursitis, a fracture, a muscle strain, arthritis, or an improper motion in the knee. Less severe cases of tendinitis can be treated with the RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. More serious or chronic conditions may need to be dealt with in other ways, such as the administration of anti-inflammatory medications or even surgery.

A person with anterior knee pain.
A person with anterior knee pain.

Muscle strains occur when the tiny fibers that make up a muscle begin to tear due to overstretching of the muscle or abnormal twisting. When this occurs in the muscles that run near or around the knee, the injury can lead to anterior knee pain. Muscle strains are often treated with the RICE treatment as well; if a muscle tears completely from itself or from the tendons, a rupture has occurred and a doctor's attention is needed immediately. Such an injury can be quite painful in the knee or other areas of the leg and may require surgery.

An anterior view of the right knee.
An anterior view of the right knee.

Arthritis is a degenerative condition that affects the cartilage and ligaments of the knee. As these tissues break down, inflammation in the joint can occur and the joint may not function properly. Anterior knee pain may occur, or pain in other parts of the knee. There is no cure for arthritis, but pain management techniques are available and preventative measures can be taken. Exercising regularly and stretching every day can help slow the progress of arthritis in the knee; doctors may also prescribe painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications to help alleviate pain.

Knee injuries are common in sports.
Knee injuries are common in sports.
Many runners sustain knee injuries when pushing their limits.
Many runners sustain knee injuries when pushing their limits.
Regular stretching can slow down the degeneration of arthritis.
Regular stretching can slow down the degeneration of arthritis.
The term "runner's knee" is often used to describe anterior knee pain.
The term "runner's knee" is often used to describe anterior knee pain.

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