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Common Kneecap (Patella) Problems

If the kneecap is “off track” even slightly (a tracking problem), it can cause uneven pressure on the back of the kneecap. This can cause pain and difficulty with movements, such as walking and going down stairs. Below are some common causes of kneecap pain.

Front view of bent knee joint showing cartilage damage.

Cartilage Damage

Sometimes the cartilage on the back of the kneecap or in the groove of the thighbone is damaged. Damaged cartilage can’t spread pressure evenly. Uneven pressure wears down the cartilage even further.

Front view of bent knee showing dislocated kneecap.


Sometimes a muscle or ligament in the knee is pulled the wrong way. Or the kneecap may be pushed too hard. Then the kneecap may move partly out of the groove (subluxation). It may even move completely out (dislocation).

Front view of knee joint showing inflamed patellar tendon.

Patellar tendinitis

Patellar tendinitis (“jumper’s knee”) occurs when the quadriceps muscles are overused or tight. During movement, the patellar tendon absorbs more shock than usual. The tendon becomes irritated or damaged.

Front view of knee joint showing plica band.

Plica syndrome

Plica bands are tissue fibers that some people have near the kneecap. They usually cause no problems. But sometimes they can become irritated or inflamed.

Online Medical Reviewer: Images Reviewed by Staywell medical art team
Online Medical Reviewer: Moloney Johns, Amanda, PA-C, MPAS, BBA
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 3/12/2013
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