What is patellar tracking disorder?

Patellar tracking disorder

Patellar tracking disorder is an imbalance in the knee area that causes the kneecap (patella) to shift or tilt out of place as the leg bends or straightens. Symptoms include a dull ache under or around the kneecap, or a popping, grinding, slipping, or catching sensation in the kneecap as the knee bends or extends.

Other symptoms of a patellar tracking disorder include swelling of the knee or a buckling or "giving way" of the knee, where the knee suddenly fails to support body weight. A patellar tracking disorder may be caused by a combination of things, including:

  • Weak thigh muscles.
  • Tendons, ligaments, or muscles in the leg that are too tight or too loose.
  • Activities that stress the knee again and again, especially those with twisting motions.
  • A traumatic injury to the knee, such as a blow that pushes the kneecap toward the outer side of the leg.
  • Problems with the structure of the knee bones or with how they are aligned.

Knee pain can be slow to heal. But most people who have patellar tracking disorder find relief with a few months of nonsurgical treatment, including rest from the aggravating activity, icing the knee, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). After 2 or 3 days of using ice, you can try heat to see if it helps. Physical therapy and bracing or taping the knee can also help to relieve knee pain. In chronic or severe cases, surgery may be needed to realign the kneecap, restore normal tracking, and repair damage to the knee.

What are the symptoms of patellar tracking disorder?

Symptoms include knee pain, especially when you squat, jump, kneel, or use stairs. You may feel popping, grinding, slipping, or catching in the kneecap when you bend or straighten it. Or you may feel that your knee is buckling or giving way, as though the knee suddenly can't support your weight.

How is patellar tracking disorder treated?

Treatment can help to reduce your pain and to strengthen the muscles around your kneecap to help it stay in place. If you don't have severe pain, a week or two of rest and home care may help.

When your knee pain starts to decrease, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. A doctor or physical therapist can help you learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your leg and hip.

Your doctor or physical therapist may also suggest:

  • Taping your knee to hold the kneecap in place.
  • Using a knee brace for extra knee support.
  • Trying shoe inserts (orthotics) to improve the position of your feet.

Patellar tracking disorder can be a frustrating problem, but be patient. Most people feel better after a few months of treatment. As a rule, the longer you have had this problem, the longer it will take to get better.

Surgery usually isn't needed.

Knee Brace for Patellar Tracking Disorder

Knee brace to keep the kneecap from shifting

A knee brace may help stabilize the knee and help prevent the kneecap from shifting.

How can you prevent patellar tracking disorder?

You can take steps to prevent patellar tracking disorder.

  • Avoid activity that overloads and overuses the knee.
  • Keep the muscles around your knees and hips strong and flexible.
  • Stretch your legs and hips well, both before and after activity.
  • Do activities that work different parts of the leg, especially if you're a runner. Cycling and swimming are good choices.
  • Stay at a healthy weight to reduce stress on your knees.

How is patellar tracking disorder diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your past health and symptoms and do a physical exam. The doctor will feel, move, and look at your knee as you sit, stand, and walk. You may have an imaging test, such as an X-ray or MRI.

How can you care for yourself when you have patellar tracking disorder?

Home care may help to reduce your pain.

  • Take a break from activities that cause knee pain, like squatting, kneeling, running, and jumping.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your knee for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, especially before and after activity. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. After 2 or 3 days, you can try heat to see if that helps.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • As your knee pain starts to decrease, do exercises to increase strength and flexibility in your leg and hip. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help you plan an exercise program that fits your condition.

What causes patellar tracking disorder?

Patellar tracking disorder is usually caused by several problems combined, such as:

  • Weak thigh muscles.
  • Tendons, ligaments, or muscles in the leg that are too tight or too loose.
  • Activities that stress the knee again and again, especially those with twisting motions.
  • A traumatic injury to the knee, such as a blow that pushes the kneecap toward the outer side of the leg.
  • Problems with the structure of the knee bones or how they are aligned.

You are more likely to have patellar tracking disorder if you have any of the above problems and you are overweight, run, or play sports that require repeated jumping, knee bending, or squatting.

What is patellar tracking disorder?

Patellar tracking disorder means that the kneecap (patella) shifts out of place as the leg bends or straightens. This is caused by an imbalance in the knee area. In most cases, the kneecap shifts too far toward the outside of the leg. In some people, it shifts toward the inside.

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