Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

What is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (runner’s knee) is a painful knee condition that affects the area under or around the kneecap (patella). It occurs when the cartilage beneath the patella wears down, roughens or softens.

The cause is not always known, but it mostly affects those who participate in high-impact sports. It can occur because of misalignment (patellar tracking disorder), prior knee surgery, excessive use, accidents, injuries and obesity.

What are the Symptoms of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?

The primary symptom of patellofemoral pain syndrome is discomfort. It is diagnosed through X-rays, a physical exam, patient history, and MRIs. The pain may intensify when:

  • Going up or down steps
  • Jumping
  • Crouching or kneeling
  • Bending the knees while seated for extended periods of time

The risk of developing patellofemoral pain syndrome is higher in younger people. Also, females are 50% more likely than males to develop the condition because of physical differences. Wider hips result in wider angles in the joints of knees.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome doesn’t come from one specific cause. In many cases, it can come on without any probable cause behind it. However, there are a number of factors that can go into the development of this syndrome. In general, overuse of the knee joint is thought to be a main cause of this problem. The pain can be the result of sports that require a lot of running and/or jumping because of the repetitive stress that is put on the joint of the knee. This stress causes the area under the kneecap to become irritated. That irritation results in pain of varying intensity.

When there are weaknesses or imbalances in the muscles around the knee and hip, this can fail to create the proper alignment of your kneecap. This leads to pain as the joint is used. Another possible cause is the way that the knee moves inward while the patient is doing a squat. If there has been any trauma to the kneecap from a fracture, dislocation or other painful event, including knee surgery, this can contribute to this pain syndrome. People who are in their adolescent and young adult years are more likely to develop this syndrome, and it is twice as common in females as in males. In cases with obese patients, the extra weight may contribute to this knee pain.

How is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Treated?

The treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome begins by avoiding activities or positions that cause discomfort. Treatment may also include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Knee bracing
  • Knee taping
  • Arch supports
  • Icing after physical activities
  • Surgery to remove damaged cartilage and/or to realign the knee

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Prevention

When the cause is unknown, there may be no way to prevent the syndrome from occurring. If you suspect that the pain was caused by playing sport or by squatting or kneeling with bent knees, avoid those positions until the pain has stopped. Be careful while doing any strenuous activities, and be sure to stretch before beginning them. Strengthening the muscles of the legs during physical therapy sessions can also help prevent it from recurring. In some cases, surgery may be needed in order to allow the knee to heal and become less painful.

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Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017