Patellofemoral pain syndrome, also called “runner’s knee”, is one of the more common sports related injuries affecting the knee, and refers to a condition that causes pain behind and around the kneecap. The patella, or kneecap, fits into grooves in the femur (the thigh bone) and is also attached to the tibia (shin bone) and the quadriceps muscles in the thigh. As the patella moves within the grooves of the femur (it can move in many directions), irritation may develop, causing pain.
What causes Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
The exact cause of patellofemoral pain syndrome is unknown but the condition appears more often in athletes that engage in high impact sports, such as running, jumping, bicycling and walking. Body alignment issues, such as those caused by differences in muscle strength, balance, or unequal physical development may contribute to the condition. Other causes may include overpronation of the feet, wearing improper or worn out footwear while exercising, or undeveloped muscle strength in the thighs.
What are the symptoms of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
The most common symptom of patellofemoral pain syndrome is pain that is felt behind the kneecap that increases with activity or after long periods of inactivity. The pain may be felt in one or both knees and is usually most severe when walking down stairs or downhill. The knees may swell or feel tender and there may be a grinding sensation felt when moving the knee. In severe cases, pain is intense enough to make it difficult to bend or straighten the knee.
How is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome diagnosed?
A medical professional will perform a physical exam and will ask questions related to when the symptoms began, what activities caused the symptoms, what worsens or relieves symptoms, and the relative severity of symptoms. The knee will be examined for swelling, tenderness, pain and mobility. Symptoms will be assessed along with various movements. X-rays and an MRI may be ordered to get a better view of the knee area and to rule out any other injuries, but are not always necessary for diagnosis.
When should I seek care for Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
If you develop pain under or around the kneecap that does not improve following a period of rest or avoidance of activities that exacerbate the pain, you should seek medical advice. If the pain occurs following a fall or other traumatic impact or pain is accompanied by redness, warmth and swelling, you should seek immediate medical attention.
What will the treatment for Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome consist of?
Treatment for patellofemoral pain syndrome begins with rest, application of ice, elevation, and avoidance of activities that exacerbate pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be taken to reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy is often recommended and includes stretching, flexibility and strengthening exercises, as well as exercises intended to compensate for strength and balance discrepancies that may be causing pain. Wearing a supportive knee sleeve during activity or orthotics to correct overpronation of feet may also help alleviate symptoms. Patellofemoral pain syndrome is often a chronic condition, however, so recurrences of symptoms may require additional treatment and ongoing exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles. Surgery is rarely recommended for this condition, but is a last resort option if symptoms don’t improve following more conservative treatments.
Which muscle groups/joints are commonly affected by Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
Patellofemoral pain syndrome causes pain behind and around the kneecap. The knee cap (patella) is connected to the femur (thigh bone), quadriceps (thigh muscles), and shinbone.
What type of results should I expect from the treatment of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
Those with patellofemoral pain syndrome will generally see improvement of pain following a period of rest, conservative treatments, and avoidance of activities that exacerbate pain. The length of time it takes to improve enough so that regular activities can be resumed will depend in part on what is causing the condition and how long it was going on before treatment began, although it usually takes a period of several weeks or a few months to see improvement. Patellofemoral pain syndrome is a chronic condition that is likely to recur, so it is important to maintain strengthening exercises and to follow guidelines for proper footwear replacement to avoid a recurrence of symptoms.