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Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (or PFPS) is a condition where pain is felt in the kneecap bone, known as the patella. It is a fairly common condition, with around a third of young adults experiencing it at some point. Anyone can get this syndrome, including children from the age of about five onwards.
It is also known as Anterior Knee Pain, Patellafemoral Maltracking or Chondromalacia Patella and usually occurs without any specific damage, such as a knock, fall or blow. Simple treatments such as medication, exercise, knee support aids and physiotherapy can be used to relieve the symptoms.
Knee pain is the main symptom. It is usually felt at the front of the knee and behind the kneecap. Pain can come and go, but can be so severe that every day movements such as walking up and down steps can be difficult. A dull ache may also be experienced after periods of rest. Playing sports may make the pain worse. In some cases, a scratching or grating sound can be heard from the knee, when bending or straightening it. This is due to changes in the surface of the cartilage surrounding the patella and is known as crepitus.
PFPS can occur for a wide range of reasons. Overuse of the knee is one of the most common reasons, especially through playing sports that put pressure on the kneecap. In some cases, an individual may have an alignment problem in the knee, which may cause the patella to rub on the lower femur, rather than glide over it. This may be due to the way the knee has developed or an imbalance in the muscles surrounding the knee. Anterior knee pain from PFPS may also result from having flat feet, which puts pressure on the knee, or the use of shoes with hard soles. Knee injuries or reduced muscle strength in the leg can also contribute to this painful knee condition.
A doctor can normally diagnose PFPS based on the symptoms, as well as examination of the knee. In most cases, blood tests and X-rays are only used to rule out other conditions.
Treatment for the knee pain associated with PFPS depends on the severity of the symptoms and may be tailored to short-term or long-term application. In the short term, many patients are advised to rest the knee and avoid over-use. Painkillers may be prescribed to reduce symptoms. In the long term, the underlying causes of the pain are tackled, such as trying to strengthen muscles or easing foot problems. Physiotherapy is often given and suitable footwear is recommended. Knee support products such as taping of the patella or a special brace to reduce pain are considered helpful by many sufferers.
Surgery is rarely required in most instances. Where it is necessary, it is normally to help correct alignment of the patella by releasing a tight ligament. In most cases, sufferers get better in a matter of a few months, and make a full recovery with non-surgical treatments.
People who have suffered from this condition and play regular sports that place a lot of pressure on the knee, are advised to reduce sporting activity until the knee pain lessens, or to make use of knee support aids that can help to protect the sensitive kneecap.