Knee Cap Pain
Hi, thank you for coming back for the latest edition of Beyond Primary Cares blog; where I highlight healthy and fun recipes, healthcare news, advice for medical conditions, as well as how membership for care works! Dr. Jeff O’Boyle is the owner of Beyond Primary Care, which is a new approach to family medicine and addiction medicine that creates the time and space your healthcare deserves. Beyond Primary Care serves patients in Ann Arbor and throughout Washtenaw, Livingston, and Wayne County.
The primary purpose of the blog is to introduce healthy lifestyle concepts and answer common questions I receive from patients that I believe are important. I want to start discussions that will help educate, benefit, and improve your well-being.
Knee Cap Pain
In this post I am discussing a common condition that I see at my clinic: knee cap pain. Knee cap pain can present itself multiple ways that may not always be muscular in nature, so you should always check with your doctor before starting any treatment. However, a common reason for knee pain is patello femoral pain syndrome (PFS), where the knee cap begins to increasingly track to the outermost part of the leg bone (femur) with movements such as walking, going up/down stairs, and squatting (pretty much any movement when someone bends their leg). Improper tracking of the knee cap can mechanically be due to a number of problems, and can be years in the making or due to a single traumatic event.
Your quadriceps muscles are key to many movements and activities that you do. The group is made up of four muscles (a “quad”) – rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis obliquus (the VMO). All four then run down to your knee and they join together, becoming a single tendon that surrounds your knee cap (patella). This tendon then continues down to connect to the knee bone (tibia) of your lower leg.
The VMO Connection
The VMO contributes to running, jumping and nearly every other basic movement, because together with your other quad muscles, it’s a powerful knee extensor along with pulling the knee cap to the inside. Anytime you push off the ground, your VMO is involved. It’s also an important knee stabilizer—a critical function that’s often overlooked. The other three quad muscles are either neutral or pull the knee cap to the outside. If you don’t have a developed VMO that can hold its own compared to the other quad muscles, you may experience tracking issues which leads to the vicious cycles of knee pain.
Minimize the Pain and Swelling
Minimizing pain and swelling can be done via an interdisciplinary approach with ice-packs and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Consider using ice-packs over the affected area, fifteen minutes at a time, two to three times a day. No heat, as this only will exacerbate the pain/inflammation cycle. Next, consider NSAIDs as these have anti-inflammatory properties and are used widely for musculoskeletal disorders. Select NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are available over-the-counter.
Identify your VMO
In a relaxed, seated position with your legs out in front, place a rolled-towel under your knee. Next, feel your VMO by placing your fingers just above your knee cap on the inside aspect of your leg. Extend your leg by bringing your knee cap down into the towel. The extension of your leg should occurring slowly (like 5 seconds), over just a small range. When you do this you should feel the VMO contracting under your fingers. This should be your first exercise.
Access Range of Motion and Build Flexibility
The first step in improving your situation is going be be determining if you have tight muscles as lack of flexibility can disrupt both the timing and contraction of muscles that will ultimately lead to more pain. From a balance standpoint, a tight muscle may limit the range of motion through which an opposite muscle can move (example of opposite muscles include rectus femoris/glute). Learn what you can about stretching, then find specific flexibility builders such as hip and ankle muscles.
Tape the Knee
Taping the knee is very easy and has been validated by research to help improve the nervous system firing of the weakened VMO muscle. Purchase some athletic or kinesio tape. To apply the tape, place the tape on the outside of the affected knee and pull it across the knee cap inward making sure you have enough pressure that you see a little skin fold crease as you do this.
Stabilize & Build Strength
Once your swelling has subsided and pain is improving, you need to start with simple non-weighted stability exercises to regain integrity of the joint. Consider one-legged standing exercises. As you progress, start with non weighted strengthening exercises such as lunges, step-ups, and squats. Lastly, if at any point treating your knee becomes too complicated, talk to your doctor about a prescription for physical therapy.