Kneecap Pain: 5 Research-Backed Tips to Get Better
Do you or someone you know have pain in or around the kneecap when doing these activities?
- Squatting (with or without weight)
- Climbing or going down the stairs
- Sitting for a long time
- Running, especially downhill
About 25% of Americans will feel this type of kneecap pain, known as patellofemoral pain. More women than men will have it, and it affects people of all ages, heights, and weights.
Kneecap pain can be hard to prevent and is a result of one or more of the following:
- Increasing the load and/or frequency of knee loading faster than your knee can adapt
- Lack of strength in the muscles on the front of your thigh
- Specializing in a single sport
- Certain hip and knee movement patterns
There are no quick fixes for kneecap pain, but there is hope. Exercise, along with other treatments by a physical therapist (PT) when appropriate, has been proven to reduce or eliminate kneecap pain.
A PT will perform a complete exam and craft a personalized treatment plan to address your pain and goals. This treatment plan will use exercises that target the hip and knee muscles to help you recover from kneecap pain. A PT also can help change the way you walk, run, or jump, and find ways for you to adjust your training routine or lifestyle to reduce your kneecap pain. Most importantly, your physical therapist will work with you to build a plan that will let you gradually return to your favorite activities.
5 Tips to Help Prevent or Reduce Kneecap Pain:
- Do hip strengthening exercises, such as squats, lunges, leg presses, and step-ups, slowly adding the amount of weight support and knee motion during the exercises over time. If this causes pain, call a health care professional.
- Combine non–weight-bearing knee extension exercises, along with the hip exercises, to boost your knee strength.
- Use arch support shoe inserts. Try low-cost shoe inserts combined with exercise, but only for the first few weeks (up to 6) until your muscles are stronger. Shoe inserts are available from pharmacies or athletic shoe stores. Custom made shoe inserts are no more effective than shoe inserts available over the counter.
- Vary the types of activities you do (eg, walk, swim, bike, run). Youths and teenagers who specialize in a single sport have a higher risk of kneecap pain.
- Knee braces, sleeves, or straps do not help kneecap pain.
Getting help early is important. If your kneecap pain does not improve in the first few weeks, you should seek help from a medical doctor or physical therapist who can address it.
Read more about Patellofemoral (Kneecap) Pain.
5 Hip and Knee Exercises to Reduce Kneecap Pain
Find a PT near you.
Reviewed by Richard Willy, PT, PhD.