Physical Therapy for Patellar Tracking Disorder

Have you ever bent or straightened your leg in a way that caused knee pain? If so, you may have a problem known as patellar tracking disorder. Fortunately, this condition can be corrected. Here’s what you need to know about patellar tracking disorder and how it’s treated, along with how physical therapists treat the problem.  

Basic Anatomy of the Knee 

Before defining the condition known as patellar tracking disorder and how to treat it, let’s review some basic knee anatomy. The knee joint is one of the body’s most complex and largest joints, The three bones coming together at your knee joint are the tibia,  the femur, and the patella, which is the kneecap. The patella can track either laterally (sideways) or medially out of the femoral groove. These bones play significant roles in the functioning of the knee joint. The fibula also has an important part in certain knee movements. Another small bone, known as a fabella, lies behind your knee joint.

The femoral groove, which is commonly known as the trochlear groove, is in the bowl-shaped area located at the end of the femur. The vastus lateralis is named for being located on the lateral or exterior of the thigh. There’s also the vastus medialis obliquus (VMO). These are quadriceps muscles running on the inner or medial portion of the thigh.

What is Patella Tracking Disorder?  

Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome or patella maltracking, patella tracking disorder is a condition involving imbalance or gliding in the kneecap. In other words, the kneecap fails to move properly.

Instead of gliding vertically when the knee bends, the maltracking patella pulls outward as it moves in an upward position in its groove. For most people who have this issue, their kneecap moves too far toward the exterior of their leg. However, for others, the kneecap swings toward the inside of the leg. This causes pain, which is the result of friction between the femur and the patella. What’s more, because the body senses injury, it creates inflammation for healing. People affected by patellar tracking disorder are forced to become less active and are prone to sitting for long periods of time.

Common Symptoms 

The primary symptom linked with patellar tracking disorder is pain occurring at the front of a knee. This is especially the case when ascending or descending stairs as well as squatting and sitting for prolonged periods. Other signs of the disorder include hearing grinding or popping noises and feeling as if your knee is buckling. 

Exercises and Modules for Correcting Patella Maltracking  

Patella tracking disorder must be corrected for relieving pain and stopping inflammation. Treatments include two main goals: pain reduction and the strengthening of the kneecap muscles for keeping the kneecap in place. A reputable, licensed physical therapist can help in pain relief and in improving the condition. For example, these highly trained and experienced professionals provide:

  • Strengthening exercises that focus on the quadriceps—The quadriceps are the thigh muscles used for controlling flexion and extension.
  • Exercises designed for reducing lateral or medical tightness can be effective.
  • Specific exercises that are targeted for improving hip alignment are used for pain relief.
  • Your physical therapist will advise you to stop doing activities that can worsen the condition, such as kneeling and squatting.
  • Icing the affected knee is also recommended.

Other Considerations and Warnings

  • Patellar maltracking is typically caused by a combination of several issues. Besides weak thigh muscles, the disorder can also be the result of leg muscles and tendons or ligaments that are either too loose or too tight. Activities that have created repeated stress on a knee, such as twisting movements can also lead to the problem.
  • Your physical therapist will give you exercises that are tailored for you.
  • Many patients start feeling better after just a few months of being treated. On the other hand, results can take longer if you have had this disorder for a long time.

Don’t continue to suffer from patellar tracking disorder. To learn more about how physical therapy can help you, contact us or call Cawley Physical Therapy at 570-208-2787.