Patellafemoral pain is a broad term to specify pain in or around the kneecap.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Runner’s Knee or Jumper’s Knee

Patellafemoral pain is a broad term to specify pain in or around the kneecap. The kneecap should fit into the concave surface in the femur (thighbone) where it joins the muscles in the front of the thigh to the tibia. The kneecap moves up or down as you bend or straighten the leg and with patellofemoral pain syndrome it can be difficult to function in everyday activities like climbing stairs. The pain originates when nerves feel pain in the soft tissues (tendons, the pad beneath the kneecap, synovial tissue lining the joint) and bone around the patella.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome can occur in athletes and non-athletes alike. Kneecap alignment, strenuous athletic training that puts stress on the knee, sudden change in physical activity, changes in footwear, and improper equipment can be contributing factors.

Symptoms incude achey dull pain in the kneecap area while performing an activity such as climbing stairs, running, or jumping. Pain can be present from sitting for an extended period with knees bent. Popping sounds can be present when doing any of these activities.

Cease the activities that are the cause of the pain and use the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Anti-inflammatories can be taken to reduce swelling and relieve pain. In cases where pain persists a physical examination by your physician is recommended to discuss what causes the pain and to locate the exact source of pain. It may be recommended that you use orthotics and/or do certain physical therapy exercises to improve strength, endurance, and range of motion.

Surgery is done rarely but in severe cases arthroscopy may be done to remove articular cartilage that is damaged (debridement) or a lateral release to loosen tissue and fix patellar malalignment. Also, in some cases the kneecap needs realigned with a tibial tubercle transfer.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
(Left) The patella normally rests in a small groove at the end of the femur called the trochlear groove. (Right) As you bend and straighten your knee, the patella slides up and down within the groove.
Image courtesy of AAOS