You really feel it when walking down stairs—a dull, aching pain in the front or sides of the knee. You may even experience a grinding sensation when the knee is flexed.
Anterior knee pain—which simply means pain in the front of the knee—is two to seven times more common in women than men. And it can have many causes.
First, a bit of anatomy. The knee joint is made up of three bones—the femur (thigh bone), tibia (shin bone) and patella (kneecap). Anterior knee pain can be caused by structural damage, as well as issues with muscles, ligament, tendons and cartilage. Specific conditions include:
- Chondromalacia patella is the inflammation of the underside of the patella and softening of the cartilage. Because cartilage is the body’s natural shock absorber, it causes pain when it begins to break down.
- Patellar tendinitis, also called runner’s or jumper’s knee, results when the knees are overused, especially through activities like basketball and soccer.
- Patellar dislocation occurs when the kneecap partly or completely comes out of the groove of the femur.
- Plica syndrome refers to the irritation or inflammation of the tissue fibers near the kneecap.
- Quadriceps tendinitis is the term for pain and tenderness that occurs where the quadriceps tendon attaches to the patella.
- Arthritis affects many of us as we age. It can hit any joint, but is particularly common in the knees.
Anterior knee pain is more common in people who are overweight, people who have suffered a previous dislocation or fracture and people who participate in sports. It’s also fairly common in teens and young adults, especially girls. (There are several reasons for this, including that females have a wider pelvis than males, which applies more pressure to the knee.)
The first step toward solving your knee pain is to diagnose it correctly. Your visit to the doctor may include an X-ray or MRI scan, as well as a physical exam.
Depending on the cause of your pain, treatment may include rest, medication and physical therapy that strengthens and stretches the quadriceps and hamstring muscles. Even arthritis symptoms can be improved with exercise, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
It can also help to lose weight. In fact, one study found that each pound of weight loss can reduce the knee-joint load by 4 pounds. Lose 10 pounds and that’s 40 pounds less of impact on your knees per step.
Knee pain is very common and a fact of life for many. But that doesn’t mean it’s something you have to suffer through.
You can’t fix something unless you know the problem. That’s why it’s so critical to seek help. You might find relief through something as simple as doing a few basic exercises each day or by making sure to warm up properly before working out.
Learn more about exercising to provide comfort and relief from pain in the joints with our guide, Exercising to Keep Your Joints Healthy. Get tips on how to exercise, and what to do if you experience pain. Here’s to healthy joints and getting you on the path you deserve.