As a high school student, I remember the unsettling feeling of discovering a movable lump above my knee cap. It was during a routine sports physical, and I was filled with concern and questions.

What could be causing this?

What are the potential risks?

What treatment options might be available?

In this article, I’ll provide clarity on these questions by exploring common conditions that could be at the root of such a movable lump above the knee cap, diagnostic procedures doctors may utilize, and various treatment strategies to manage your health effectively.

Just as I navigated through this health concern, you too can understand and address it effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Movable lumps above the knee cap can vary in size, texture, and pain, providing clues to the underlying cause, with common culprits being conditions like lipomas, bursitis, and cysts.
  • Diagnosis often involves physical examinations and imaging studies like MRI and ultrasound, and in some cases, a biopsy may be necessary to rule out serious conditions.
  • Treatment options range from conservative methods like RICE and physical therapy to more invasive approaches like surgery, with the choice dictated by the lump’s cause and severity.

Identifying the Movable Lump: Common Characteristics

Movable lump above knee cap

Let’s begin by describing the nature of movable lumps above the knee cap. This is certainly easier said than done. When I found this bump I panicked and lost all common sense and reason (can confirm I had little to lose at the time).

These lumps, which can affect the soft tissues around the knee, come in different sizes, textures, and pain levels.

You might find a tiny, hard lump that barely causes discomfort or a larger, soft one that’s a bit sore.

Sometimes, you may even notice joint swelling or fluid buildup. So, how do these characteristics help us?

Well, they can actually give us clues about the underlying cause of the lump and guide us towards the best course of treatment.

For instance, one study found a movable lump about 4-cm × 2-cm along the medial border of the patella, which showed that these lumps can indeed get quite large and cause noticeable joint swelling.

While these lumps may seem a bit strange and even scary, they’re just part of the body’s complex landscape. The key is to understand them better.

Size and Texture

Let’s talk about how the size and feel of a movable lump above your knee cap can be quite different from one person to the next.

These physical traits can actually give us some pretty good hints about what’s going on under the skin.

For example, things like cysts and cystic-looking lesions can range from small to big lumps and may even affect the synovial membrane, which is a fancy term for the lining of your knee joint.

These lumps can feel as soft and smooth as a marshmallow, or as firm and fluctuating as a water balloon.

A soft, smooth texture might suggest a lipoma, while a firm, fluctuating lump could be a cyst filled with fluid.

Even the location of the lump, whether it’s on the left knee or the right knee, could provide insights into the underlying cause.

As you can see, the size and texture of a lump can serve as a first-step diagnostic tool for identifying the culprit behind it.

Pain Levels

When it comes to pain levels, lumps above the knee cap are quite diverse. Some of them don’t cause any pain at all, while others can be quite uncomfortable or even downright painful. The source of this pain is often linked to the underlying medical condition causing the lump.

For example, a lump due to patellar bursitis might not hurt at all, while other times it could be painful.

Similarly, a lump from quadriceps tendonitis can be pretty painful, especially when you’re moving your knee around. The pain tends to ramp up when you’re on the move.

Then there’s the pain from patellofemoral pain syndrome, which usually feels like a dull ache in the front of the knee or around the patella. Sometimes it can also be sharp or stabbing, especially during certain movements or activities.

The next time you notice a lump above your knee cap, pay attention to how it feels; your pain level could be hinting at the underlying cause.

Possible Causes of a Movable Lump Above Knee Cap

Having discussed how to identify a movable lump above the knee cap, we can now investigate potential causes. While the causes can vary, some of the most common include lipomas, bursitis, and cysts.

Each of these conditions has distinct characteristics and requires different treatment approaches, because why would it ever be simple, right?

For instance, a well-defined, pure fatty growth in the knee might suggest the following potential diagnoses, which should be considered alongside other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Lipoma arborescens
  • Well-differentiated liposarcoma
  • Pigmented villonodular synovitis
  • Hoffa’s disease

On the other hand, a swollen, tender knee could be due to bursitis, and a firm, fluctuating lump might indicate a cyst.

Let’s explore each of these causes in more detail.


Lipomas are benign fatty tumors that can create a soft, movable lump above the knee cap.

Generally, lipomas are painless and don’t cause any trouble, making them an often overlooked cause of knee lumps. Interestingly, these fatty lumps can pop up in several places on the body, including:

  • the neck
  • the shoulders
  • the stomach
  • the bowels

How does a lipoma form above the knee cap?

Conditions like knee lipoma or lipoma arborescens, are rare, benign intra-articular lesions, that are generally a result of previous knee trauma.


We now turn our attention to bursitis. This was the type of bump that I fell victim to.

Specifically, patellar bursitis can cause swelling and a movable lump above the knee cap due to inflammation of the bursa sacs in the knee joint.

This inflammation is usually triggered by repetitive pressure or friction on the bursa, which can happen from activities like extended or frequent kneeling, squatting, jumping, and kicking.

The swelling from patellar bursitis usually looks pretty distinct, kind of like a squashy orange. But it doesn’t stop at swelling; patellar bursitis can also bring warmth, tenderness, and pain when moving the knee or at rest.

These symptoms can show up quickly after a direct blow to the knee area. If you notice a squashy lump above your knee cap that’s warm to the touch, it might be due to patellar bursitis.


Yet another cause of movable lumps above the knee cap can be cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs. Different types of cysts can occur in the knee, such as Baker’s cysts or meniscal cysts, and each has its distinct characteristics.

For instance, a Baker’s cyst causes a bulging, tight sensation behind the knee, while a meniscal cyst often accompanies a meniscal tear and feels like a painful lump on the side of the knee joint.

The causes of these cysts vary, from knee joint conditions like inflammation and wear and tear to a meniscal tear that allows fluid to move from the knee joint to a small outpouching at the side of the joint.

As for treatment, a baker’s cyst is typically managed by addressing the underlying knee issue.

Meniscal cysts can be treated in different ways. One way is to drain the cyst and inject medicine into it. If that doesn’t work, then surgery might be needed.

Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Now, let’s chat about something called Osgood-Schlatter Disease.

This might sound like a mouthful, but it’s a common cause of knee pain in growing kids and teenagers, especially those who play sports.

This condition occurs when the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shin bone gets inflamed, usually because of too much running, jumping, and bending. This can cause a painful and sometimes movable lump right below the knee cap.

If you’ve got a lump in this area and it hurts when you run, jump, or climb stairs, Osgood-Schlatter Disease could be the culprit.

Don’t worry too much though – it usually gets better on its own as kids finish growing. Sometimes, doctors might recommend resting, icing the knee, or doing special exercises to help with the pain.

Diagnosing the Movable Lump

Illustration of a medical professional conducting a physical examination of a knee lump

By now, you should have a good understanding of both the nature and potential causes of a movable lump above the knee cap.

But, how do doctors go about diagnosing these lumps? The diagnostic process usually involves a physical examination, imaging studies, and sometimes, a biopsy.

Physical Examination

During a physical examination, healthcare professionals carefully assess the lump’s size, texture, and location.

These physical characteristics are crucial in guiding the diagnostic process. For instance, the healthcare provider might measure the lump in centimeters, feel its shape, and assess how it moves. The lump’s texture and how it interacts with surrounding body parts also provide important insights into its nature.

When a doctor checks out a lump above your knee cap, they might find things like lipomas (which are fatty lumps) or Baker’s cysts (which are fluid-filled lumps).

They might also find problems with your knee if it’s swollen or tender, especially at the back and inner side of your knee. Because of this, the physical examination is a super important part of figuring out what’s causing the lump.

Imaging Studies

Imaging studies provide a more in-depth look at the lump and its surroundings. These studies include techniques like ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that offer detailed images of the knee joint.

An ultrasound gives healthcare providers a clear view of the soft tissue structures near the knee, helping them determine the best way to treat knee pain.

On the other hand, an MRI provides detailed images of everything in the knee joint, including:

  • Bones
  • Cartilage
  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Muscles
  • Blood vessels

This level of detail can help provide an accurate diagnosis, distinguishing between a harmless cyst and a more serious issue.


In some cases, a biopsy might be necessary to reach a definitive diagnosis. A biopsy involves taking a small piece of tissue from the lump to examine it under a microscope.

A biopsy is usually performed using a hollow needle to take out a small piece of tissue from the lump.

Don’t worry, though. The area is numbed with local anesthesia to make the procedure as comfortable as possible.

If you’ve got a movable lump above your knee cap that’s causing concern, a biopsy can provide the answers you need.

Treatment Options for Movable Lumps Above Knee Cap

After the movable lump above your knee cap has been identified and diagnosed, treatment is the next stage.

Treatment options can range from conservative approaches and physical therapy to surgical intervention, depending on the cause and severity of the lump.

Conservative Treatments

Conservative treatments aim to alleviate symptoms without invasive procedures. The use of rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) can often alleviate inflammation and pain associated with some movable lumps above the knee cap.

The RICE method is particularly effective for treating soft tissue injuries. It helps with pain and swelling and promotes healing and recovery.

If you’re dealing with a movable lump above your knee cap, you should start the RICE method within the first 48 hours after the injury, icing the area for 20 minutes at a time every 4 hours.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is another non-invasive treatment option that can help improve strength, flexibility, and function in the knee joint. It can include exercises that help reduce pain, swelling, stiffness, and weakness in the knee, such as strengthening and stretching the knee muscles.

Physical therapy can help shrink the lump above the knee cap. Doing gentle exercises that improve movement and strengthen the muscles around the knee, can lead to a decrease in swelling and inflammation.

So, if you’ve got a movable lump above your knee cap, consider incorporating some physical therapy into your treatment plan.

Surgical Options

While non-invasive treatments are often the first course of action, sometimes surgical intervention may be necessary. This could involve an open excision to remove the whole cyst wall or specific surgeries to remove the cysts.

Arthroscopic surgery is one technique that’s often used to treat movable lumps above the knee cap. This minimally invasive procedure involves making small incisions to insert a camera and small tools into the knee. The camera helps guide the surgeon in removing the lumps or making any necessary repairs.

If conservative treatments and physical therapy don’t provide relief, surgery is a viable option to consider.

When to Seek Medical Help and Warnings

In matters of health, caution is always preferable. It’s vital to know when to seek medical help for a movable lump above your knee cap. If you notice warning signs like:

  • severe pain
  • rapid growth
  • changes in appearance
  • difficulty moving the knee joint

It’s time to consult a healthcare professional about your medical history.

Seeking medical help early can greatly improve your prognosis.

Ignoring a movable lump above the knee cap can lead to serious injuries to the joint, cause mild injuries to worsen, and may even lead to more damage inside the knee, resulting in knee instability.

In some cases, it could be indicative of a knee stress fracture, which if ignored, can result in serious complications.

Long story short, if you have a lump above your knee cap that moves, don’t hesitate to get it checked out.

Warning Signs

Imagine you’ve noticed some changes in the lump on your knee. It could be getting bigger, or starting to hurt a lot.

Perhaps the swelling’s gotten so bad that you think it might need to be drained. You might even be having a hard time moving your knee around.

If any of these things are happening, it’s time to talk to a doctor. These could be signs of something serious, like an injury to your knee or a condition called osteoarthritis.

Don’t ignore these warning signs – get some medical help right away!

Importance of Early Diagnosis

Figuring out what’s going on with a movable lump above your knee cap as soon as possible is super important. Catching it early means you can start treatment quickly, which can really help you avoid any serious problems down the road.

Getting diagnosed sooner rather than later also means you can start feeling better quicker. This could even speed up your recovery from a movable lump above the knee cap.

If you notice a lump above your knee cap that moves around, don’t wait around to see what happens. It’s always better to act fast and get it checked out.


Have you ever noticed a movable lump above your knee cap? It happens to a lot of people and usually, it’s not something to stress about.

But, it’s still super important to understand what these lumps are, why they show up, and what we can do about them. If you ever spot a lump that moves around above your knee cap, don’t just shrug it off.

It’s always smart to have a doctor take a look.

Remember, being safe is way better than being sorry. Finding out about these things early can make a huge difference.

If you see a lump, don’t just sit there – get it checked out!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the pocket of fluid above the kneecap?

The pocket of fluid above the kneecap is called a bursa, which is a small sac of fluid that cushions the joint and helps it move easily. Inflammation of this bursa can cause a condition known as prepatellar bursitis, leading to swelling and discomfort in front of the kneecap.

What is a soft bulge on the outside of the knee?

A soft bulge on the outside of your knee could be a meniscal cyst, often associated with a meniscal tear. It could also be due to knee bursitis, where an inflamed bursa causes a localized swelling on the side of the knee.

What is the muscle above the kneecap swollen?

It sounds like you might have quadriceps tendonitis, which is an inflammation of the thigh muscle above the kneecap. This can cause pain and swelling in that area, often from overuse of the knee joints or leg muscles.

What is the bone below the knee?

The bone below the knee is the shin bone, also known as the tibia. It’s where the patella tendon attaches at the bony bump called the tibial tuberosity.

What are some common causes of a movable lump above the knee cap?

If you have a movable lump above your knee cap, it could be due to common causes such as lipomas, bursitis, or cysts. Be sure to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

About the Author

Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.

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