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
Clijsen R, Fuchs J, Taeymans J. Effectiveness of exercise therapy in treatments of patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Phys Ther 2014;94(12):1-11.
Juhn MS. Patellofemoral pain syndrome: a review and guidelines for treatment. Am Fam Physician. 1999; (60)7: 2012-2022.
Kooiker L, Van De Port IGL, Weir A, Moen MH. Effects of physical-therapist guided quadriceps strengthening exercises for the treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome: a systematic review. J Ortho Sports Phys Ther 2014;44(6):391-B1.
Labella C. Patellofemoral pain syndrome: evaluation and treatment. Prim Care Clin Office Pract. 2004; 31: 977-1003.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 1999 Nov 1;60(7):2019-2022. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed March 27, 2018.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated February 28, 2017. Accessed March 27, 2018
Smith TO, Drew BT, Meek TH, Clark AB. Knee orthoses for treating patellofemoral pain syndrome. Cochrane Database of Syst Rev 2015;(12):CD010513.
1/24/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed... : Fukuda TY, Rossetto FM, Magalhães E, Bryk FF, Lucareli PR, de Almeida Aparecida Carvalho N. Short-term effects of hip abductors and lateral rotators strengthening in females with patellofemoral pain syndrome: a randomized controlled clinical trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40(11):736-742.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT
Last Updated: 4/4/2018
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.