Patellofemoral Syndrome

Patellofemoral Syndrome, also known as runner's knee, is a condition characterized by pain around the kneecap. Activities that involve repetitive knee bending or impact can contribute to this syndrome.

Patellofemoral Syndrome
Patellofemoral Syndrome
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Your Guide to Understanding Patellofemoral Syndrome

What is Patellofemoral Syndrome?

Patellofemoral Syndrome, also commonly known as runner's knee, is a condition characterized by pain and discomfort in the front of the knee, specifically around the patella or kneecap. It is a common knee problem that can affect people of all ages and activity levels, but it is especially prevalent in individuals who participate in activities that involve repetitive knee bending, such as running, jumping, squatting, or cycling.

The main cause of Patellofemoral Syndrome is an imbalance or improper alignment of the kneecap as it moves along the groove in the femur bone. This misalignment can put excess pressure on the patellofemoral joint, leading to irritation and inflammation of the surrounding tissues. Factors that can contribute to this include muscle imbalances, weak hip or thigh muscles, overuse, poor training techniques, sudden increases in activity level, or structural abnormalities of the knee joint.

Symptoms of Patellofemoral Syndrome typically include a dull, aching pain at the front of the knee, particularly around or behind the kneecap. The pain may worsen with activities that involve repeated knee bending or impact, such as going up or down stairs, squatting, running downhill, or sitting for prolonged periods with knees bent. Some individuals may also experience a grinding or popping sensation during knee movement.

Treatment for Patellofemoral Syndrome focuses on relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and addressing the underlying causes of the condition. This may involve a combination of conservative measures, such as rest, icing the affected area, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief, and activity modification. Physical therapy plays a crucial role in rehabilitating the knee and correcting muscle imbalances. A physical therapist can provide exercises to strengthen the hip and thigh muscles, improve flexibility, and enhance proper biomechanics of the knee joint. In some cases, the use of supportive devices like knee braces or orthotics may be recommended to provide additional stability and alignment.

How can Physiotherapy help treat Patellofemoral Syndrome?

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in alleviating the symptoms of Patellofemoral Syndrome. By addressing the underlying causes of the condition, physiotherapists aim to reduce pain and improve function. They may use manual therapy techniques, such as joint mobilization and soft tissue release, to improve the alignment of the patella and reduce stress on the knee joint.

Additionally, physiotherapists prescribe specific exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee, particularly the quadriceps, to provide better support and stability. They also assess and correct improper movement patterns or biomechanical issues that contribute to the syndrome. With a comprehensive approach, physiotherapy helps to alleviate pain, restore proper function, and prevent future episodes of Patellofemoral Syndrome.

What causes Patellofemoral Syndrome?

Patellofemoral Syndrome is typically caused by an imbalance or misalignment of the kneecap as it moves along the groove in the femur bone. This misalignment can put excessive pressure on the patellofemoral joint, leading to irritation and inflammation of the surrounding tissues.

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of Patellofemoral Syndrome. Muscle imbalances or weakness in the hip or thigh muscles can alter the alignment of the kneecap, causing it to track improperly. Overuse or repetitive activities that involve bending the knee, such as running, jumping, or squatting, can also contribute to the condition. Poor training techniques, sudden increases in activity level, or structural abnormalities of the knee joint can further exacerbate the problem.

What treatments might help Patellofemoral Syndrome?

The treatment for Patellofemoral Syndrome aims to alleviate pain, improve knee function, and address any underlying factors contributing to the condition. Here are some ways in which treatment can help improve Patellofemoral Syndrome:

  • Rest and activity modification: Giving the knee proper rest and avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain can help reduce inflammation and promote healing.
  • Physical therapy exercises: A key component of treatment is a structured exercise program focusing on strengthening the thigh and hip muscles. Strengthening these muscles helps stabilize the knee joint and alleviate stress on the patellofemoral joint.
  • Stretching and flexibility exercises: Incorporating stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and decrease tightness around the knee, promoting better knee mechanics and reducing pain.
  • Manual therapy: Techniques such as soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, and massage may be utilized by a qualified healthcare professional to alleviate muscle tension and improve joint mobility.
  • Modalities: Modalities like ice packs, heat therapy, or electrical stimulation may be used to reduce pain and inflammation in the knee.
  • Education and self-management strategies: Learning proper body mechanics, posture, and techniques for injury prevention can help individuals manage their symptoms and prevent future episodes of Patellofemoral Syndrome.

Signs of Patellofemoral Syndrome:

Patellofemoral Syndrome can present with various signs and symptoms that can vary from person to person. Some common signs of Patellofemoral Syndrome include:

  • Knee pain: Pain is usually felt at the front of the knee, behind or around the kneecap (patella). The pain may be described as a dull ache, a sharp sensation, or a grinding feeling when moving the knee.
  • Pain during activities: The pain is often exacerbated by activities that involve bending the knee, such as climbing stairs, running, squatting, or sitting for prolonged periods with knees bent.
  • Swelling and stiffness: The knee may feel swollen or puffy, and there may be a sensation of tightness or stiffness in the joint.
  • Crepitus or cracking sounds: Some individuals may experience a cracking or grinding sensation when moving the knee, known as crepitus.
  • Instability or weakness: In some cases, there may be a sense of instability or weakness in the knee, making it difficult to perform certain movements or activities.

Symptoms of Patellofemoral Syndrome:

Patellofemoral Syndrome can cause several symptoms, which may vary from person to person. Some common symptoms include:

  • Knee pain: You may experience pain around or behind the kneecap (patella). The pain is often described as a dull ache or sharp sensation.
  • Pain during activities: The pain is typically aggravated by activities that involve bending the knee, such as running, jumping, squatting, or going up and down stairs.
  • Swelling and inflammation: The knee may appear swollen or feel puffy due to the irritation and inflammation of the patellofemoral joint.
  • Clicking or grinding sensation: Some individuals may notice a clicking or grinding feeling when moving their knee, known as crepitus.
  • Stiffness and limited range of motion: The knee joint may feel stiff, making it challenging to fully bend or straighten the leg.
  • Muscle weakness and imbalances: Patellofemoral Syndrome can lead to muscle weakness or imbalances around the hip, thigh, or knee, affecting your overall knee stability.
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When is the right time to see a Physiotherapist for Patellofemoral Syndrome?

The right time to see a physiotherapist for Patellofemoral Syndrome is when you start experiencing pain, discomfort, or difficulty with knee movements. If you notice persistent pain in the front of your knee during activities like running, jumping, or squatting, it may be beneficial to seek professional help.

It is also advisable to consult with these healthcare professionals if the pain worsens over time, affects your daily activities, or if you have tried home remedies such as rest and ice but are not experiencing relief. They can provide a comprehensive assessment of your condition, identify any underlying factors contributing to the syndrome, and develop a personalized treatment plan to address your specific needs.

Additionally, if you have any concerns about your knee health, it is always better to seek professional advice sooner rather than later. Early intervention and appropriate management can help prevent the progression of Patellofemoral Syndrome and reduce the risk of further complications.

Remember, every individual is unique, and the timeline for seeking treatment may vary. Trust your instincts and listen to your body. If you feel that your knee pain is impacting your quality of life or hindering your ability to participate in activities, it is worth reaching out to a physiotherapist for guidance and support.

Meet our Lead Registered Physiotherapist

Brittany Pereira

Brittany Pereira

Registered Physiotherapist

Registered Physiotherapist with a degree from the University of Toronto

Brittany enjoys working with patients across age groups and backgrounds to help them move better, get stronger, understand their bodies and ultimately, feel more confident. She combines her knowledge and clinical experience to best serve her patients.

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