Patellofemoral Pain

What is patellofemoral pain?

Pain around the front of the knee is often referred to as patellofemoral pain. This pain may be caused by:

  • soft cartilage under the kneecap (the patella)
  • referred pain from another area such as the back or hip
  • soft tissues around the front of the knee
  • abnormal alignment of the kneecap

Who is at risk for patellofemoral pain?

  • teenagers
  • manual laborers
  • people who are overweight
  • athletes

In athletes, patellofemoral pain may be caused by strain in the tendons, which connect the kneecap to:

  • the lower leg bone (this is the patellar tendon)
  • upper leg bone (quadriceps tendon)
  • the retinaculum (which supports the kneecap on both the left and right sides).

What are the symptoms of patellofemoral pain?

Your child may experience pain when he or she:

  • sits with bent knees
  • squats
  • jumps
  • uses stairs

Your child may also experience:

  • knee buckling under his or her weight
  • a catching, popping, or grinding sensation when walking, or when the knee is moving

How Boston Children's Hospital approaches patellofemoral pain

Treatment for your child's patellofemoral pain will depend on the underlying cause. At Boston Children's, doctors emphasize the use of exercise to strengthen and stabilize the knee as well as the surrounding muscles. Surgery is recommended in only the most severe cases of patellofemoral pain.