Adolescent anterior knee pain is an orthopedic disorder that commonly affects healthy, active young people and is characterized by chronic pain in the center, in front of the knee (anterior). This anterior knee pain is more frequently seen in females and often, the cause is not clear. Because the knee joint is so complex in nature, the structures within the knee joint are extremely sensitive to stress, overuse, damage, and misalignment which can be contributors to adolescent anterior knee pain, a knee disorder.
What are the Symptoms and Causes of Adolescent Anterior Knee Pain?
Adolescent anterior knee pain frequently presents initially as a dull, gradual ache under the kneecap often related to the activity. Other common symptoms of adolescent anterior knee pain include:
- Popping or crackling sound when flexing the knee, such as while climbing stairs, jumping, or squatting
- Pain during the night
- Pain with increased activity or intensity level
- Pain during activities involving repetitive knee flexion or weight-bearing activities
- Swelling around the kneecap
What Causes Adolescent Anterior Knee Pain?
Adolescent anterior knee pain is typically not caused by any abnormality in the knee, but rather by overuse or inadequate training or stretching. Factors that are believed to be contributors include:
- Improper footwear
- Incorrect or inadequate training techniques, such as stretching and strengthening exercises
- Poor flexibility
- Tight ligaments surrounding the knee joint
- Imbalance or weakness in the thigh muscles (hamstring or quadriceps)
- An abrupt change in technique or intensity of physical activity
- Overusing the knee joint
- Change in the playing surface
- Misalignment between the hips and ankles
Adolescent Anterior Knee Pain Diagnosis and Treatment
How Do You Diagnose Adolescent Anterior Knee Pain?
Diagnosing your child’s knee pain starts with a thorough examination of the knee, including observing certain activities, such as walking, jumping, bending, or squatting. Your orthopedic specialist will want to rule out other possible knee injuries or problems.
Your doctor will likely check:
- Leg alignment
- Kneecap position and stability
- Hip rotation
- Range of motion for knees and hips
- Thigh muscles (strength, tone, flexibility, circumference)
- The tightness of heel cord and ligaments
- Foot flexibility
Your doctor may also want to take x-rays of both knees for comparison or an MRI to rule out soft tissue damage.
How Do You Treat Adolescent Anterior Knee Pain?
Adolescent anterior knee pain can typically be treated with conservative methods and some minor lifestyle/activity adjustments. Initial treatment often involves reducing or resting from those activities which cause knee pain. Decreased intensity level and duration of physical activity can help alleviate symptoms. Ice pack application at regular intervals can also help with pain and swelling if present.
Other treatment options include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications (prescription or NSAIDs, such as Motrin or Advil)
- Wearing shoes with adequate support that reduce stress on the knees
- Physical therapy, including thigh muscle stretching and exercises to improve strength, range of motion, and flexibility
- Orthotic shoe inserts/arch supports
After recovery, it is important to maintain muscle conditioning to avoid recurrence. Other preventative measures include:
- Stretching before and after activity
- Limit activities that cause knee pain
- Avoid prolonged kneeling or squatting
- Wearing appropriate shoes for the activity
- Properly warming up prior to physical activity
If your child is experiencing chronic knee pain, contact the orthopedic experts at OSMI for an evaluation. Our goal is to provide quality, cutting edge orthopedic treatments to all our patients so they can continue to participate in the activities they enjoy in a pain-free manner.