Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Patellofemoral pain syndrome is painful rubbing of the kneecap against the thigh bone. This pain occurs during exercise or movement. It is most common during impact actions such as running.
Swelling in the tissue around the kneecap causes the pain. It is often the result of overuse and improper use of the legs.
The following factors increase your chance of developing patellofemoral pain syndrome:
The first symptom is pain around or under the kneecap. The pain may first appear during high-impact activities. Over time, the pain may appear with squatting, kneeling, or long periods of sitting. Pain is often increased by going down stairs or down hills.
Other symptoms may include:
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and health history. You will also have a physical exam. The diagnosis is often made based on the exam and your symptoms.
The doctor may also suggest images of your knee. These tests may help to rule out other problems. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist.
The first step is to rest the knee. Look for low impact exercise options. For example, choose swimming instead of running. Your doctor may suggest that you apply ice to the kneecap after activity.
Long-term treatment may include one or more of the following:
A physical therapist will look for issues that may cause the pain. The findings will help to create a treatment plan. Part of the plan may include an exercise program. Increasing the strength of the muscles around the knee can help.
Over-the-counter medicine can help to manage pain.
Knee braces or knee sleeves may help some people. They may help to hold the kneecap in place during activity. Some are designed to stop the patella from going too far to the side. You may need to try a couple to see which works best for you.
Special shoe inserts, called orthotics, may also be helpful. They work best if there are foot problems such as flat feet or excessive turning in during walking.
The goal of surgery is to better align the kneecap. It may be an option if other treatments did not help.
It may not be possible to prevent this condition. However, the following may decrease your risk:
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
OrthoInfo—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
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Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
Last Updated: 4/4/2018
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