Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

(Runner’s Knee)

Pronounced: Pa-tell-O-fem-or-al

Definition

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is pain behind or around the kneecap. It is most common during impact activities, such as squatting, running, and climbing stairs.

The Kneecap

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Causes

The pain is caused by swelling in the tissue around the kneecap. This is often from overuse or poor alignment of the kneecap.

Risk Factors

This health problem is more common in women and people under the age of 40. It is also more common in people who are active, such as endurance athletes.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Increasing activity levels too quickly
  • A change in running or activity surfaces
  • A problem or imbalance in the muscles that support the knee
  • Poor alignment of the kneecap
  • Focusing on a single sport, such as running

Symptoms

The main symptom is pain in the front of the knee. It often worse during impact activities. It may also happen during or after sitting too long.

The knee may also be swollen or make popping or grinding sounds.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the knee. This is enough to make the diagnosis. You may need to see a doctor who treats bones and joints.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to ease pain and promote movement. This may be done with:

  • Limiting activities to rest the knee
  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • A knee brace to limit the knee from moving
  • Crutches to keep weight off the knee
  • Shoe inserts to correct a knee that is not aligned the right way
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the knee

Surgery is rarely done to treat this problem. It may be used when other methods do not help.

Prevention

The risk of this health problem may be lowered by varying physical activities and slowly increasing how long and how often they are done.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org
OrthoInfo—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

References:

Crossley KM, Stefanik JJ, et al. 2016 Patellofemoral pain consensus statement from the 4th International Patellofemoral Pain Research Retreat, Manchester. Part 1: Terminology, definitions, clinical examination, natural history, patellofemoral osteoarthritis and patient-reported outcome measures. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Jul;50(14):839-843.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/patellofemoral-pain-syndrome . Updated November 6, 2019. Accessed March 26, 2020.
Smith TO, Drew BT, Meek TH, Clark AB. Knee orthoses for treating patellofemoral pain syndrome. Cochrane Database of Syst Rev 2015;(12):CD010513.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Last Updated: 3/26/2020

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