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Patella Pain


What Is Patella Pain?

Pain in or around the patella (kneecap) affects people of all ages. Strenuous activity can aggravate a painful kneecap, but sometimes pain and irritation arise without an obvious cause.

Our orthopedic and sports medicine experts will examine your painful knee and devise a treatment plan that can help you get back to walking, running or working in comfort.

The Aurora Difference

Expert Patella Pain Care

Patella pain can be complex. At Aurora Health Care, our orthopedic and sports medicine doctors can often resolve pain with physical therapy and conditioning. If you do need surgery, we’re well-versed in the most advanced minimally invasive techniques available.

No matter which type of treatment you need, we offer:

  • Expert diagnosis: With more than 70 orthopedic and sports medicine surgeons on our staff, you’ll find experts in knee pain and patella pain. Our expertise means we can accurately identify the cause of the pain, whether it’s due to a knee injury or a related issue that’s affecting your knees – like a foot, ankle or hip problem.
  • Coordinated care: As one of the state’s largest health care organizations, we offer everything you need in a single, integrated system. Our doctors and physical therapists work together as one team, sharing one electronic medical record. That means you’ll get timely updates on your test results and seamless communication about your care, no matter what kind of knee treatment you need.
  • Advanced surgical expertise: If you need surgery to relieve the cause of knee pain, we offer advanced treatments including minimally invasive procedures. In fact, our knee replacement program has earned Joint Commission certification – meaning an independent, quality assurance organization has named our program among the best available. Learn more about our treatments for knee pain.
  • Convenient locations: Our doctors and physical therapists are available at locations throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, so it’s easy to get the knee care you need close to home or work. See our locations.

Causes & Risk Factors

What Makes Patella Pain More Likely?

Patella pain has several risk factors, including:

  • Being female: Women are more likely than men to experience patella pain.
  • Kneeling at work: Work that involves a lot of kneeling, like installing floors, can cause chondromalacia and patella pain.
  • Doing sports that stress the knees: Sports that involve running, jumping and squatting – like basketball, soccer and weight training – make patella pain more likely.
  • Increasing your training level: Working harder, longer or differently at sports can tax your knees and cause pain.
  • Having prior knee surgery: If you’ve had anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery using your own patellar tendon as a graft, you may have knee pain later. Learn more about ACL surgery.

Causes of Patella Pain

Patella pain occurs among active adults of any age. It’s also common as people grow older. Different types of patella pain have different causes, which can include:

  • Overuse: Walking, running, kneeling, jumping or squatting can stress your knee joint and cause irritation that leads to pain.
  • Injury: A blow to the knee, including a fall, can cause patella pain.
  • Chondromalacia patellae: Chondromalacia involves softened cartilage on the back of the kneecap. Normal cartilage protects the ends of bones from rubbing against each other. When cartilage softens, bone contact is more jarring, which causes pain.
  • Tendonitis: When the patellar tendons or quadriceps tendons become inflamed, they may feel tender to the touch and cause tightening, swelling and knee pain. Learn more about tendonitis.
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFS): Sometimes called runner’s knee, PFS causes pain behind the kneecap. This condition can develop when you abruptly start doing activities that strain the knee – for instance, if you start a rigorous workout routine that involves running, squatting and jumping. Women tend to get PFS more often than men do.
  • Muscle imbalances: The muscles of the thigh, hip and knee work together to keep your kneecap aligned. When these muscles aren’t equally strong, they might pull your knee inward or outward, causing inflammation and pain.


Signs of Patella Pain

You might experience patella pain as any of the following:

  • Pain (usually a dull ache) in the kneecap
  • Difficulty or pain when climbing up or down stairs
  • Knee pain after sitting for a period of time

Sometimes, you’ll notice other signs of a patella problem. These symptoms may come along with knee pain:

  • A knee that catches or gives way at times
  • Creaking or grinding sounds (crepitus) in the knee

Diagnosis & Treatment

Patella Pain: Finding the Cause

To diagnose patella pain, our doctors will carefully examine your knee, ask when you first noticed pain and what you think caused it. They may also move your knee into different positions to understand where the pain is coming from.

To see problems inside the knee joint, our doctors might order X-rays (images of the bones), computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. CT scans combine X-rays from different angles, while MRI scans use magnetic fields to form a picture of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis at Aurora.

Treating Patella Pain

Patella pain often resolves itself with rest, lower-impact activities, icing or anti-inflammatory medications.

If your pain does not improve with rest and medication, we’ll talk with you about possible treatments, including:

  • Bracing or splinting: Braces or splints can help align the joint while an injury heals.
  • Custom orthotics: Orthotics – special shoe inserts that stabilize the foot and knee – help relieve pain so you can stay active. Learn more about custom foot orthotics.
  • Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help you strengthen the muscles that support the knee, which in turn can help relieve patella pain. Find out more about orthopedic physical therapy.
  • Arthroscopic surgery: Using tiny surgical instruments, our surgeons can see inside your knee to tighten ligaments or remove loose cartilage – both of which can help with knee pain. Read about minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery.
  • Realignment surgery: Realignment can correct the way the knee lines up with the thigh and shin, improving mobility and reducing pain.

Learn more about our treatments for knee pain.

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