Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome in Teens: Care Instructions

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Alt text: 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 doesn't move, or track, in a normal way. You may have knee pain when you run, walk down hills or steps, or do other activities. Sitting for a long time also can cause knee pain.

Your knee pain may get better with home care. Exercises to make your quadriceps stronger can also help. Losing weight, if you need 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 treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Do not take 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.
  • Rest and protect your knee. Take a break from activities that cause pain, such as long periods of sitting or kneeling.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your knee for 10 to 20 minutes after activity. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • If your doctor recommends an elastic bandage, sleeve, or other type of support for your knee, wear it as directed.
  • If your knee is not swollen, you can put moist heat, a heating pad, or a warm cloth on your knee. After several days of rest, you can begin gentle exercise of your knee.
  • Reach and stay at a healthy weight. Being overweight puts stress on your knees.
  • Wear athletic shoes that offer good support, especially if you run.
  • Use shoe inserts, or orthotics, if they help reduce your knee pain. Many drugstores and shoe stores sell them.
  • See a physical therapist to learn more exercises and stretches to make your legs stronger.

When should you call for help?

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

  • Your knee pain does not get better or 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.