Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome in Children: Care Instructions

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Bent knee joint, showing quadriceps becoming the patellar tendon and, along with bone (femur), connecting to the patella (kneecap) from above


Patellofemoral pain syndrome is pain in the front of the knee. (The patella is the kneecap, and the femur is the thighbone.) It's caused by overuse, weak thigh muscles (quadriceps), or a problem with the way the kneecap moves. Extra weight may also cause this syndrome.

In some cases, the kneecap does not move, or track, in a normal way. Your child may have knee pain when running, walking down hills or steps, or doing other activities. Sitting for a long time also can cause knee pain.

Your child's knee pain may get better with home care. Exercises to make the quadriceps stronger can also help. Losing weight, if your child needs to, may also help with pain.

Pain in the front of the knee can also be caused by chondromalacia. In this problem, the underside of the knee cartilage wears down and frays. Cartilage is a rubbery tissue that cushions joints.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Ask your doctor if you can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Have your child rest and protect the knee. It can help to take a break from activities that cause pain. These include long periods of sitting or kneeling.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your child's knee for 10 to 20 minutes after activity. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.
  • If your doctor recommends an elastic bandage, sleeve, or other type of support for your child's knee, put it on as directed.
  • If your child's knee is not swollen, you can put moist heat or a warm cloth on the knee. After several days of rest, your child can begin gentle exercise of the knee.
  • Help your child reach and stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight puts stress on the knees.
  • Have your child wear athletic shoes that offer good support, especially if your child runs.
  • Use shoe inserts, or orthotics, if they help reduce knee pain. Many drugstores and shoe stores sell them.
  • Take your child to a physical therapist to learn more exercises and stretches to make the legs stronger.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child's knee pain does not get better or it gets worse.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.