Knee Pain and the Female Athlete

Knee Pain and the Female Athlete

By Joanne Baird, MD

(November 2020) Amidst this ongoing pandemic, fall sports are back in full swing. With the disruption of our routine training and activities during the last several months, we are seeing an unfortunate increase in injuries in our athletes across all age groups. Knee pain in female athletes is especially common.

What Kinds of Knee Pain are There?

Anterior knee pain is one of the most common complaints with one of every ten musculoskeletal patients to our office. Adolescent anterior knee pain often occurs in healthy athletes, and can be extremely common in females. Athletes complain of pain in the front of the knee, usually underneath the kneecap ( patella). Pain more distally (upper shin bone area) or proximally (lower thigh) are different conditions related to the tendons or secondary growth centers (apophyses) of the leg including quadriceps or patella tendinitis or Jumper’s Knee, Osgood­ Schlatter Disease, or Sinding-Larsen-Johansson syndrome.

Adolescent anterior knee pain is particularly common after changes in training routine without adequate stretching or strengthening. There is usually no physical abnormality and in most cases it will improve with simple treatments.

The exact cause of knee pain in female athletes oftentimes is not clear. The knee joint is complex and small changes in alignment, training, and overuse can result in pain. The quadriceps (front thigh muscle) muscle helps keep the kneecap within the groove of the thigh bone (femur) . When this muscle is weak it can result in poor tracking of the kneecap, which can irritate the cartilage or aggravate the tendons. This does not usually cause knee swelling, nor do patients complain of clicking, locking, snapping, or giving way.

Anterior Knee Pain in Female Athletes Can Become a Problem with Lack of Training

What are the Symptoms of Anterior Knee Pain?

  • Dull, achy activity related pain that begins gradually
  • Popping when climbing stairs or standing from sitting
  • Pain at night
  • Pain during activities that involve repeated knee bending (jumpin , squatting, running, weight-lifting)

What to do? If your knee pain will not go away after and interferes with activity, see your doctor to examine the knee and rule out other problems with X-ray and potentially MRI if internal joint problems are suspected.

How do I Treat Anterior Knee Pain?

  • Stop and limit the activities that make your knee hurt until the pain goes away
  • Changing training routines
  • Participation in low-impact activities puts less stress on the knee joint (biking, swimming)
  • Weight loss may help if overweight
  • Technique changes with the guidance of a trainer or physical therapist
  • Gradual return to higher impact sports and activities
athlete in physical therapy for knee injury

Physical therapy exercises may be recommended to help improve your range of motion, strength, and muscle endurance. .

Additionally, ice may relieve discomfort after activities and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen may help alleviate pain .

Remember, adolescent anterior knee pain usually improves with simple treatments. Make sure to condition muscles with changes to training and activities to keep the pain at bay. Whether evaluation, treatment or physical therapy if needed – we’re here to help.

* American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

Dr. Baird received her MD from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Maryland, followed by Orthopaedic Residency at Naval Medical Center in San Diego, CA. As a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, she served as Department Head of Orthopaedic Surgery at Naval Hospital Pensacola since 2011. Dr. Baird joined the Bayside Orthopaedic team this year after completing a Sports Medicine Fellowship at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, FL.