Anterior Knee Pain
Sometimes physicians and physical therapists will use the term “anterior knee pain” to describe activity related pain that is located in front of the knee. So what is anterior knee pain? First of all, it is not a specific condition. There are many structures or tissues that can give rise to anterior knee pain. A common coause of anterior knee pain is inflammation or irritation of the patella-femoral joint, which is part of the knee joint complex. This is called patella-femoral pain syndrome. The patella-femoral joint is the joint between your kneecap (patella) and the distal thigh bone (femur). Other causes include osteoarthritis of the patella-femoral joint, patellar tendonitis, quadricep tendinitis, and bursitis.
Patello-femoral pain syndrome in turn can reflect different problems with the knee, some of which are structural, and some of which are functional. One example of a structural problem is when the distal femur has a shallow groove where the patella sits, so that the patella glides too far lateral, or to the outside, when you move your knee, especially when weight-bearing. This causes abnormal loading and too much friction at the patello-femoral joint. This is one example of a structural problem.
A functional problem can be related to imbalances in the muscles that control hip and knee movement. For example, it is common for the important gluteal muscles, spanning from the pelvis to the thigh, to be weak. When these muscles are weak, the knee can move inward during certain tasks because the gluteal muscles are not controlling that movement properly. This is most pronounced when performing a squat. The impaired knee movement can lead to increased stress at the patella-femoral joint, thus leading to anterior knee pain.
These are just a few examples of some of the problems that can cause pain in the anterior knee region. By far, the majority of problems that lead to anterior knee pain can be managed effectively by a physical therapist. If you are experiencing anterior knee pain, see your physical therapist so that the problem can be identified and treated appropriately.
Marcia Spoto PT, DC, OCS