Bone, Joint and Muscle Conditions

Knee and Kneecap Problems

What Are Knee and Kneecap Problems?

Many different problems can affect the knee and kneecap (patella), the disc of bone that protects the knee joint and helps the thigh muscles move the knee.

The kneecap is one of three bones in the knee. The others are the shinbone (tibia) and the thighbone (femur). The kneecap sits within a tendon at the end of the thighbone, near the front thigh muscle (quadriceps).

Sometimes the kneecap is sitting in an unbalanced way, usually too far toward the outside of the knee. This can cause the kneecap to slip out of the joint, or put more pressure on the thighbone and the cartilage in the knee. All of these problems can cause pain.

Tight thigh muscles can also lead to knee and kneecap pain. If the quadriceps is tight, the kneecap gets pushed hard against the thighbone. Tight muscles on the back of the thighs (hamstrings) force the quadriceps muscle to work harder, which may cause kneecap pain.

In children, spots on the bones around the knee that contribute to growth are weaker than other surrounding bone. If the growth centers (growth plates) become inflamed or irritated it can cause pain.

When this happens at the top of the shinbone, the problem is called Osgood-Schlatter disease. When it happens at the bottom of the kneecap, it is called Sinding-Larsen-Johansson syndrome.

Knee and Kneecap Problems in Children

Growing children and adolescents, particularly teenage girls, can have pain around their kneecaps. Children whose knees are bent inward - commonly called knock-kneed - also tend to have the problem. So do children with tight thigh muscles.

Knee and Kneecap Problems at Seattle Children's

Correcting or improving kneecap problems can be very difficult. At Seattle Children's, we specialize in treating children who are growing.

We tailor treatment to help your child's specific problem. For most cases of kneecap pain, we emphasize physical therapy and home exercise programs.