Congratulations. The reader clicking this, if not working in some sort of the physical sciences, has a curious mind.
Improper patellar tracking is when the ridge under the patella (kneecap) does not track properly in the groove of the femoral condyles—the inner and outer knee. It happens most often within an athletic population. Suddenly, the knee starts aching, right around the patella at the joint where the femur (upper leg) and tibia (lower leg) meet.
Based on x-rays, an orthopedic doctor will often diagnose this pain as arthritis. In truth, arthritis will most likely be present in anyone over 50 having had an active life, especially if one is overweight and or engaging in a sport that involves impact such as jumping, running or twisting. The question however is not “do I have arthritis,” but do I have improper patellar tracking of the knee.
The very basic explanation of knee function is this: the four muscles of the quadriceps runs over the femur and connects to the tibia via tendons including the patellar tendon and extensor retinaculum. The kneecap embeds within patellar tendon. The kneecap helps to improve the power of the quads so that the knee extends. If there is muscle imbalance because of tight outer leg muscles, the patella will not track correctly and the normal up and down movement becomes a lateral movement. Over time, this friction will soften and degenerate the articular cartilage (chondromalacia patellae), creating a bone on bone environment that sends the signal of pain.
The best way to find out if this condition exists is to visit a physical therapist. A biomechanical evaluation will advise which muscles are too tight or need strengthening. While exercise rehabilitation occurs, techniques such as McConnell taping will help temporarily keep the patella within in proper position.