What is Patellar Tracking Disorder?

Commonly referred to as the “kneecap,” the patella is the strong, prominent bone that protects your knee joint. Because of the unique structure of the knee, the patella allows for a wide range of motion and is held in place by a complex network of tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Patellar tracking disorder occurs when the patella shifts out of place as the leg straightens or bends.


A variety of problems involving the ligaments, tendons and cartilage surrounding the kneecap can cause the bone to slide out of place. Common causes of patellar tracking disorder include:

  • Intense, high-impact accidents or traumas
  • Direct blows to the knee
  • Sudden twisting
  • Degenerated cartilage
  • Activities that place repeated strain on the knee and progressively weaken the area
  • Weak thigh muscles
  • Damaged or irritated tendons, ligaments or muscles

People who are overweight or obese or those who run or play sports involving continual jumping and squatting are also more likely to develop patellar tracking disorder than others.


Common indicators of patellar tracking disorder include:

  • Frontal knee pain that intensifies with certain movements, such as kneeling, jumping, squatting or walking down stairs
  • The feeling that your knee cannot hold your weight or may be “giving out”
  • Popping, cracking, slipping, catching or grinding sensations in the kneecap region
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Visible deformities in the knee

The OrthoCARE Treatment Approach

Patellar tracking disorder can lead to severe, long-term complications if not properly addressed. In fact, the longer an individual has patellar tracking disorder, the longer it will take to heal. Some patients’ knees actually become dislocated and must be reset by a doctor immediately as the result of untreated patellar tracking disorder. It is wise to consult an orthopedic physician if you suspect you are suffering from this condition, even if you believe it to only be in its early stages. Many orthopedic conditions that appear to be patellar tracking disorder are actually more serious ailments, so getting an expert opinion is generally in your best interest.

At OrthoCARE Institute, a division of the vertically-integrated, physician-owned and operated Lumin Health system, our team of experienced orthopedic experts provide comprehensive, patient-centric care for a number of issues, including patellar tracking disorder. During your visit, one of our physicians will carefully examine your knee to determine the severity of your condition. X-rays, MRIs and other imaging or diagnostic tests may be necessary to obtain an accurate and complete diagnosis. Once your physician is familiar with your specific case, he or she will develop a treatment plan designed to meet your unique needs and goals.

Depending on the underlying cause behind your patellar tracking disorder, conservative treatments may be enough to provide optimal healing. Through hot and cold therapies and anti-inflammatory medications, pain can often be reduced or eliminated. Strength-building physical therapy typically fortifies the body parts holding the kneecap in place. Knee braces, shoe inserts and other assists can also relieve the symptoms of patellar tracking disorder.

For patients with severe or fully developed patellar tracking disorder, surgery may be necessary to achieve maximum restoration. Your doctor may recommend lateral release surgery, medial patellofemoral ligament repair or osteotomy procedures to address the underlying issues spurring your patellar tracking disorder.

To learn more about this condition or OrthoCARE Institute, North Texas’s premier bone, joint and spinal center, call us directly at 972-255-5588 or fill out the form on our Contact Us page. We look forward to helping you regain the quality of life that you deserve!

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