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Patient education: Patellofemoral pain (The Basics)

Patient education: Patellofemoral pain (The Basics)

What is patellofemoral pain? — Patellofemoral pain is a condition that causes pain in the front of the knee. It involves the knee cap, which doctors call the "patella" (figure 1).

Many times, patellofemoral pain happens in runners or other people who put a lot of pressure on their knees. But it can also happen when a person's knee cap gets out of line with the knee joint.

What are the symptoms of patellofemoral pain? — Patellofemoral pain causes pain in the front of the knee, or around or behind the knee cap. The pain can start slowly or quickly. The pain is usually worse when you squat, run, or sit for a long time. You might also feel as if your knee is giving out.

Is there a test for patellofemoral pain? — No test can tell for sure if you have patellofemoral pain. But your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have the condition by learning about your symptoms and doing an exam.

To make sure that your symptoms aren't caused by another condition, your doctor might order an X-ray or imaging test of your knee. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.

How is patellofemoral pain treated? — Long term, the most important treatment is strengthening the muscles around your knees and hips. A physical therapist (exercise expert) can teach you exercises to do. This usually also involves strengthening the "core" muscles in your belly and lower back.

When you are having pain, these things might help:

Rest your knee and avoiding activities or movements that make the pain worse.

Take nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, also called "NSAIDs" – NSAIDs are a large group of medicines that includes ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (sample brand names: Aleve, Naprosyn). While they can help relieve short-term pain, they should not be used to treat patellofemoral pain for longer than 2 or 3 weeks.

Put ice on your knee when it hurts or after activities that cause pain – You can put a cold gel pack, bag of ice, or bag of frozen vegetables on the painful area every 1 to 2 hours, for 15 minutes each time. Put a thin towel between the ice (or other cold object) and your skin.

Your doctor might also recommend the following, along with physical therapy:

Wear a knee brace to support your knee.

Tape up your knee in a certain way to support your knee.

Wear special shoe inserts made to fit your foot (to keep your foot from turning in or out too much).

Your symptoms will most likely improve with treatment, especially physical therapy. If they don't, your doctor might have you see a knee specialist to discuss treating your condition with surgery. But this is rare.

How can I prevent getting patellofemoral pain again? — You can reduce your chances of getting this condition again by doing the exercises and stretches that your doctor or physical therapist shows you. Strengthening your muscles helps reduce the amount of stress on your knees.

More on this topic

Patient education: Knee pain (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercise and movement (The Basics)
Patient education: Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (The Basics)
Patient education: Giving your child over-the-counter medicines (The Basics)
Patient education: Chondromalacia patella (The Basics)
Patient education: Knee sprain (The Basics)
Patient education: Knee arthroscopy (The Basics)

Patient education: Knee pain (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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