What is a patellar tracking disorder?

Patellar tracking disorder is an orthopedic condition where the kneecap moves out of place when the leg straightens or bends. In most cases of patellar tracking disorder, the kneecap moves to the outside of the leg, but there are cases where the kneecap moves toward the inside of the leg.

Causes of patellar tracking disorder

Patellar tracking disorder is typically caused by a combination of factors including:

  • Twisting movements that strain the knee joint over and over
  • A blow to the knee that thrusts the kneecap to the outer or inner side of the leg
  • Tight or loose tendons, ligaments or muscles in the leg
  • Weak muscles in the thighs
  • Alignment problems in the knee joint

Risk factors for patellar tracking disorder

  • Weight — patients who are overweight put more pressure on the knee joint and are at a higher risk for developing patellar tracking disorder.
  • Participating in sports — patients who run or play sports that involve squatting, knee bending or jumping are at higher risk for developing patellar tracking disorder.
  • Conditions listed in causes — if you have any of the conditions listed in the causes of patellar tracking disorder, you are at higher risk for developing patellar tracking disorder.

Symptoms of patellar tracking disorder

The most common symptom of patellar tracking disorder is pain (in the front of the knee) when going down stairs, jumping, squatting or kneeling. Other symptoms of patellar tracking disorder:

  • Popping or grinding in the kneecap when you bend or straighten the leg
  • The knee feeling as if it is buckling or giving away under the weight of the body

Diagnosis of patellar tracking disorder

The symptoms of patellar tracking disorder are similar to other knee problems, so it is important to schedule a visit with your provider as soon as possible.

Your physician will take a full medical history and perform a full medical exam. In the exam, the physician will examine your knee as you sit, stand and walk. He or she will also move the knee to determine where the pain is the worst.

In some cases, the physician will order an x-ray or MRI to rule out other knee conditions.

Treatment for patellar tracking disorder

If you think you have patellar tracking disorder, it is important to get treatment right away. The longer you wait to treat the condition, the longer the recovery period will be.

Early treatments for patellar tracking disorder include rest and ice, in combination with anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain and swelling.

More advanced treatments for patellar tracking disorder include:

  • Physical therapy — physical therapy is indicated to help strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility in the legs.
  • Bracing — support the knee
  • Taping — hold kneecap in place
  • Orthotics — improve foot position in shoes

Recovery from patellar tracking disorder

Recovery from a patellar tracking disorder can take weeks or months. Patients must work with their doctor to avoid movements that cause the condition, continue strengthening exercises even after pain subsides and lose weight.

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