Patellofemoral Syndrome

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Patellofemoral syndrome is an injury that causes pain and irritation under the kneecap (patella) and is aggravated by intensive running and jumping activity. Some doctors believe that it is the result of the deterioration of the cartilage under the kneecap. This in turn causes direct bone on bone contact between the underside of the kneecap and the thigh bone. It is sometimes also referred to as patellofemoral pain syndrome. This condition is one of the most common causes of knee pain among athletes of adolescent age, particularly for those who do lots of running or jumping. Another name for the condition is “runners knee”.

Chondromalacia has very similar symptoms to patellofemoral pain syndrome and some people also refer to it as as runners knee.  However, one notable difference between the two conditions is that chondromalacia is sometimes attributable to deteriorating tissue under the knee cap. This is not the case with patellofemoral pain syndrome – in general, there is no widespread agreement as to the underlying cause of this condition.

Patellofemoral pain normally occurs as an overuse injury caused by excessive running and jumping. Other potential causes of patellofemoral pain syndrome can include muscle imbalances in the hip and knee areas that result in misalignment of the kneecap. In other cases, a blow to the kneecap can result in the development of patellofemoral pain later in life. Some types of knee surgery are also believed to increase the risk of the condition.

Risk factors for patellofemoral syndrome can include:

  • Age – the condition primarily affects adolescents and young adults;
  • Gender – Women develop the condition at about twice the rate of males;
  • Participation in sports that involve lots of running or jumping e.g. basketball, volleyball or tennis. This explains the occasional use of the term “runners knee” for this condition.


As we have mentioned, the key symptom of patellofemoral syndrome is pain under the kneecap. This knee pain may be more intense when engaging in intense physical activity, particularly if it involves running and jumping. Activities that involve deep knee bends, such as sitting or squatting, will usually produce runners knee pain.

Treatment of Patellofemoral Syndrome

Treatment or prevention of the condition may involve some or all of the following

  • Ice or topical analgesics to ease the pain;
  • Wearing knee braces such as those below;
  • Resting the knee joint by avoiding physically intense activity and allowing the joint to recover;
  • Weight loss.
  • An exercise program to strengthen quadricep and hip abductor muscles. This will improve the ability of those muscles to keep the knee properly balanced during physical activity. The result will be less risk that your patellofemoral pain syndrome may return.

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