What is Patellofemoral Syndrome?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2018
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Patellofemoral syndrome, patellofemoral pain syndrome, chrondromalacia or runner’s knee is a condition that causes pain in the knee or knees, usually right behind the kneecap or in the front of the knee. Pain may most be felt when doing certain activities like running, walking, making deep knee bends, sitting for extended periods of time, or when descending stairs. Little is known about the causes of patellofemoral syndrome, but it’s fairly easy to diagnose the syndrome and suggest treatment that may help resolve it.

Patella is the name for the kneecap, and femoral refers to the thighbone or femur. There’s some suggestion that patellofemoral syndrome results if the kneecap moves in an unusual pattern across the thigh bone when activity takes place. Weakness in quadriceps muscles, which help stabilize the kneecap, is suggested as a possible cause. As such, some of the treatment for this condition may involve muscle-strengthening exercises for the quadriceps. Another potential cause is wearing improperly supportive shoes during exercise.

As described above, those suffering from patellofemoral pain syndrome are likely to experience pain on or behind the kneecap. Other symptoms that could be present include an easy to hear grinding sound when the knee is straightened from a bent position. Sometimes swelling exists at the kneecap, and pain may get better or worse depending upon activities.


Chronic pain is always a good reason to see a doctor, and doctors may want to rule out injuries of other kinds by performing an x-ray, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). When diagnosis of patellofemoral syndrome is made, doctors work with people to help improve the condition through a variety of means. The first step may be assisting with pain control, and many doctors simply recommend patients take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen. This can help reduce inflammation, as can icing the knees about four times a day for 15-20 minute periods.

Most patients will also be told to take it easy and abstain from any kind of sports that might stress the knees. Low-impact sports like swimming are encouraged, but things like running or high impact aerobics would not be. Additionally, doctors may recommend physical therapy or at minimum direct patients in how to do some exercises that strengthen quadriceps muscles. When these are attended to regularly they can improve the condition.

However, it can still take a while to recover from patellofemoral syndrome. Many times it requires at least six weeks of reduced activity, icing, rest, and quadriceps exercise to improve the condition. If at this point, pain is still present, people should definitely speak with their doctors again. They may need physical therapy to more closely address the issue, or they might require more testing to rule out greater injury to the knee joint.



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