Patellar tracking disorder, commonly known as "runner's knee," is a condition that affects the alignment and movement of the kneecap (patella). It is a prevalent issue among athletes, particularly runners.
The patella is a small bone located at the front of the knee joint. It normally moves smoothly within a groove at the lower end of the thigh bone (femur) during knee flexion and extension. However, in individuals with patellar tracking disorder, the patella does not follow its usual path, resulting in discomfort and pain.
Several factors can contribute to the development of patellar tracking disorders. Muscle imbalances play a significant role, where weakness or tightness in the muscles around the knee, such as the quadriceps and the iliotibial band, can affect the alignment of the patella. Structural abnormalities, such as an uneven or shallow patellar groove, a misaligned patella, or a tilted pelvis, may also predispose individuals to tracking issues. Additionally, overuse and repetitive stress on the knee joint, which are common in activities like running or jumping, can contribute to the problem.
The most common symptom of patellar tracking disorder is a dull, aching pain around the front of the knee. The pain tends to worsen during activities that involve bending the knee, such as climbing stairs or sitting for long periods with the knee flexed. Other symptoms may include a grinding or popping sensation during knee movement, swelling, and a feeling of instability in the knee.
Understanding and treating patellar tracking disorder typically involves a combination of conservative measures to alleviate pain, correct muscle imbalances, and improve patellar alignment. These measures may include rest and activity modification, physical therapy to strengthen and balance the muscles around the knee, the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief and inflammation reduction, and employing the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Orthotic devices or footwear modifications may also be recommended to address any foot or gait abnormalities that contribute to the problem.
In more severe cases or when conservative treatments are ineffective, medical interventions such as corticosteroid injections or surgery may be considered. Surgery is typically reserved for individuals with persistent symptoms or structural abnormalities that significantly affect patellar alignment.
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