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Patellofemoral joint (kneecap) pain

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is a term to describe pain around the patella (kneecap). It is also commonly known as anterior knee pain, "runner's knee" or "jumper's knee".

At the knee there is a union of three bones: the patella (kneecap), the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone).

Normally the patella sits in the middle of the groove in the thigh bone (femur) and joint forces are evenly distributed. With PFPS, the patella is usually pulled out of place, which creates undue stress on the joint, causing pain and inflammation.

Contributing factors:

  • imbalance of strength in quadriceps muscles
  • weak inside part of quadriceps muscle (vastus medialis)
  • tight structures on the outside or front of the thigh (ITB and quadriceps)
  • poor foot posture (foot pronation)PFJ pain
  • poor biomechanics or training technique

Signs and symptoms:

  • pain at the front of the knee or around the patella
  • pain when bending/straightening the knee, more so in weight bearing
  • aggravating activities include: going up/down stairs/hills, squatting, running or jumping
  • occasionally pain may be felt after sitting with a bent knee for long periods
  • sometimes clicking/locking/collapsing is present
  • a decrease in size of the quadriceps muscles may be evident

In most cases, PFPS responds well to physiotherapy treatment. Treatment may include:

  • education (activity modification, anti-inflammatory advice)
  • soft tissue release of tight structures
  • stretching program
  • strengthening of quadriceps (particularly the smaller inside quadriceps muscle) and other lower limb muscles
  • correction of lower limb biomechanics
  • patella taping or patella stabilising brace can be helpful
  • graded return to play

The success rate of treatment of PFPS is dictated largely by patient compliance. It is crucial patients adhere to their home exercise program and avoid aggravating activities.

What to avoid:

It is important to rest from any activities that increase your pain until you are pain free. Activities which place large amounts of stress through the patellofemoral joint should be minimised, including squatting, jumping, running and going up/down stairs. In most cases, PFPS responds well to physiotherapy treatment.

Our physiotherapists will be able to identify factors that are contributing to your pain and treat accordingly.

Please note: this information should serve as a guide only. When in doubt always seek advice from Southside Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Centre or your GP.


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