Patellofemoral pain syndrome may sound like a serious condition, but in fact, it’s quite common and easily treatable without surgery. The term is used to describe pain around the patella (i.e., kneecap). This type of pain often develops in runners and athletes because of the large amounts of stress they put on their knees. However, it can occur in anyone and the pain can really make it difficult to climb stairs, walk, kneel, and even sit for long periods of time with the knee bent.
What are the Symptoms of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
The most common symptom of patellofemoral pain syndrome is a dull, aching pain in the front of one or both knees. This pain will typically flair up while you’re walking, running, climbing stairs, exercising, or participating in sports. You may also experience pain just by standing up after being seated for several hours in a chair, on an airplane, or at the movies. Another symptom to watch for is a popping or cracking sound when standing up after prolonged sitting.
What Causes Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
In many cases, patellofemoral pain syndrome is simply caused by activities that put repeated stress on the knee such as running or participating in most sports at a competitive level. It’s especially common when there’s a sudden increase activity levels—if a typically a sedentary person begins an exercise routine, or if an experienced athlete’s training regimen intensifies, for example.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome can also be caused by abnormal movement of the kneecap in the trochlear groove—a small groove at the end of your thighbone. As you bend your knee, your patella should easily slide up and down in the trochlear groove. However, in some people, the patella may push out to one side or ride too high in the groove, causing irritation and pain. The reasons for this abnormal tracking of the kneecap may be a misalignment between your hips and ankles. Also, if your quadriceps (thigh muscles) are weak or imbalanced, then your patella may not track correctly in the trochlear groove.
How is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Diagnosed?
If you are experiencing knee pain, then you should go see an orthopedic doctor who specializes in sports medicine to get a proper diagnosis. During the examination, the doctor will check your knee for problems in patellar tracking and identify the exact location of the pain by gently pressing on or around your kneecap. You may be asked to squat, walk, bend, or lunge so the doctor can see how your knee moves.
In addition, you can expect your doctor to examine the flexibility, strength, and range of motion of your feet, ankles, hips, ankles, quadriceps, hamstrings, and core muscles (abdominals and lower back muscles). This physical examination is usually all it takes to diagnose patellofemoral pain syndrome. However, your doctor may order and X-ray to rule out any more serious damage to your knee.
How is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Treated?
In most cases, patellofemoral pain can be treated without surgery. Your doctor will most likely recommend the classic RICE treatment, which stands for:
- Rest: Avoid exercise or anything that stresses the knee.
- Ice: Use cold packs on the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Compression: To prevent additional swelling, lightly wrap the knee in an elastic bandage, leaving a hole in the area of the kneecap.
- Elevation: As often as possible, rest with your knee raised up higher than your heart.
In addition, your doctor may recommend:
- Anti-inflammatory medication: Over-the-counter medication is usually sufficient, but your doctor will write a prescription if necessary.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy will help you strengthen and stretch your leg, back, and abdominal muscles and prevent future injury.
- Orthotics. Shoe inserts can help align and stabilize your foot and ankle, taking stress off your lower leg.
If you are experiencing knee pain or think you may have patellofemoral pain syndrome, then contact Dr. James Parolie at Somerset Orthopedic & Sports Medicine. Dr. Parolie specializes in sports injuries and arthroscopic surgery. Call 908-425-4990 to schedule an appointment today.