Patellar Tracking Disorder

Patellar Tracking Disorder

The knee is a joint with a complex hinge joining the two bones in the lower leg with the thigh bone. The patella (kneecap) sits in a grove at the end of the thigh bone. It is then held in place on the top and bottom by tendons and on the side by ligaments. There is also a layer of cartilage that lines the underside of the kneecap. The cartilage helps it glide along the groove found in the thigh bone. If there is a problem with any of these parts, it can lead to patellar tracking disorder.



Patellar tracking disorder is when the kneecap or patella shifts out of place when the leg bends or straightens. For most people, it will shift toward the outside of the leg, but some may have it shift toward the inside of the leg.


Patellar Tracking Disorder Causes

This disorder is often caused by a combination of several problems. Some of these include:

  • Weak thigh muscles
  • Tendons, ligaments, or muscles in the leg that are either too tight or too loose
  • Participation in activities that stress the knee over and over again, especially with twisting motions
  • A traumatic knee injury like a blow
  • Problems with your knee’s structure or alignment
  • Flat feet or high-arched feet

People who are most likely to have patellar tracking disorder are those who have any of the above problems and are overweight, run, or play sports requiring frequent jumping, bending, or squatting.


Patellar Tracking Disorder Symptoms

The most common symptom one may experience is a pain in the front of the knee, particularly when squatting, jumping, kneeling, or using the stairs. Typically the pain while using the stairs will occur when going down the stairs. You might also feel a popping, grinding, slipping, or catching sensation in your kneecap when you either bend or straighten your leg. You could also get a sudden feeling that your knee cannot support your weight like it is buckling. 

If the kneecap becomes fully dislocated, you will likely experience severe pain and swelling. In addition, you may be able to tell just from looking at it that your kneecap is out of place. Finally, you might not be able to straighten or bend your leg at all. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately. Your kneecap needs to be put back in place by a professional right away.


Patellar Tracking Disorder Treatment

This can be a frustrating problem that will take time to heal. Most people will experience relief after a few weeks or months of treatment. However, the longer you have the problem, the longer it takes to get better. 

Any treatment plan for patellar tracking disorder has two goals. The first is to reduce your pain and the second is to strengthen the muscles near your kneecap to help keep it in place. For some, home remedies like the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) may be enough to relieve the pain. Physical therapy is another option for many people with patellar tracking disorder. They will likely prescribe strengthening and stretching exercises for your entire leg. They will also be able to help you determine how much you should be exerting and when you should pull back.

Surgery is generally not necessary for patellar tracking disorder. Only if your kneecap becomes dislocated and other treatments have been tried will a doctor recommend surgery.


Patellar Tracking Disorder at OAR

If you suspect you might have patellar tracking disorder, come see the team at Orthopaedic Associates of Riverside. We will be able to diagnose the disorder and suggest what kinds of treatment will be most successful for you.