What is Patellar Tracking Disorder? 

The kneecap is designed to help protect the knee joint, and also to help connect the muscles in your upper leg and lower leg. The kneecap sits in a small, v-shaped groove at the end of your thighbone (femur), and in between your two shin bones (the tibia and fibula). Tendons hold it in place on the top and bottom, and ligaments on either side help hold it in place. A layer of cartilage is on the underside of the kneecap, and helps the patella glide in the groove on the thighbone.

If there is a problem with the tendons, ligaments, or the cartilage that help the kneecap move in place, it can lead to patellar tracking disorder.


Patellar tracking disorder usually has the following symptoms:

  • Feeling like your kneecap is popping, slipping, clicking, or catching when you bend or straighten your leg
  • Pain in the front of your knee during physical activity, especially when squatting or going down stairs
  • The feeling that your knee cannot support your weight

If your kneecap is completely dislocated, you may also notice:

  • Pain, which can be severe
  • Swelling
  • Inability to fully bend or straighten your knee
  • The kneecap stays out of place

If you have any of the symptoms that mean a dislocated knee cap, see your doctor right away. A dislocated joint will need to be reset as soon as possible.

When to See a Doctor 

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your knee feels unstable
  • You have ongoing pain or swelling in your knee
  • You cannot fully bend or straighten your knee
  • Your knee looks like the bone is out of place

Contact your healthcare provider right away if:

  • You have injured your knee and also feel weak or very sick
  • You have a fever
  • You notice redness around the skin on the knee
  • You cannot stand or walk
  • You have severe pain
  • You notice swelling and/or severe pain in one calf

These symptoms might mean there is something more severe than patellar tracking disorder, and you should be seen by your doctor as soon as possible. The longer your kneecap remains dislocated, the more damage it causes to the knee joint.


Patellar tracking disorder has many causes, including:

  • A knee injury
  • Muscle weakness or tightness, specifically the thigh muscles
  • Cartilage damage
  • Structural problems that affect the alignment of the knee bones
  • The tendons that support your kneecap are too tight or too lose.
  • Activities that stress the knee, such as those that twist on the knee (basketball and soccer are two sports that have this motion)
  • Overuse or overtraining
  • Being overweight
  • Playing sports that require a lot of running, jumping, squatting, or other knee bending and/or twisting

Most of the time, patellar tracking disorder is not due to one specific cause. Rather, it is linked to a series of activities. It can be linked to one, or a combination, or the causes listed above.

Diagnosis and Tests 

To understand if patellar tracking disorder is the cause of your symptoms, your healthcare provider will ask you questions about your health history. They will ask what activities you have been doing lately, when the pain started, and if you think the pain was caused by an overuse, injury, or something else. 

Your healthcare provider will also do a physical exam and feel and watch your knee as you sit, stand, and walk. They may also ask you to get an x-ray or MRI if he/she needs more information to make a diagnosis. 

Treatments & Prevention


Patellar tracking disorder can be prevented in many ways. You can prevent patellar tracking disorder by:

  • Keep the muscles around the knee, thighs, and hips strong. Do a variety of exercises that will strengthen all parts of your legs.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid putting extra stress on the knee joint.
  • Stretch your legs before and after you exercise or perform other physical activities to help keep your muscles loose.

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