What is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome? A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding PFPS
Updated: Sep 21
If you're looking for more information on patellofemoral pain syndrome, you’ve come to the right place. Also known as "jumper's knee" or "runner's knee", patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is a condition that causes pain around the kneecap (patella) and in the front of the knee.
In this guide, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of the syndrome, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options. If you're experiencing symptoms of PFPS and need expert care, consider visiting one of our specialised clinics.
What is PFPS?
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is one of the main causes of chronic knee pain, affecting about 33% of adults. PFPS typically occurs in adults who participate in high-impact sports that involve running and/or jumping. The pain associated with PFPS can range from mild to severe, and is generally located around the kneecap. Early intervention can relieve knee pain and prevent long-term or chronic knee pain. PFPS has also been associated with anterior knee pain.
PFPS is often described as a dull, aching pain at the front of the knee and around the patellofemoral joint (the joint between the thigh and kneecap). The pain is also often felt just behind the kneecap. Activities like running, jumping, squatting, and sitting (for prolonged periods of time) can exacerbate this knee pain, making it a common concern for athletes and non-athletes alike.
PFPS symptoms can vary from person to person, and in its degree of severity, adding complexity to PFPS diagnosis and treatment. In addition to knee pain, you may experience swelling, stiffness, or a clicking and grinding sensation in the knee. Some patients have also experienced weakness in the knee, or feeling as though their knees cannot support their weight. PFPS pain can also radiate up and down your leg to your calf and thigh.
A sedentary lifestyle, or work that includes long periods of sitting or driving, can contribute to the development of PFPS. Being overweight or obese are additional risk factors for PFPS, as extra weight can put extra pressure on and around the knee. Moreover, wearing the wrong shoes, such as high heels, can contribute to knee pain as well.
Muscle imbalances are a significant contributing factor to PFPS. This means that weak quadriceps, hamstrings, or calf muscles can put extra stress on the knee joint, leading to PFPS symptoms. Any torn or over-stretched muscles, ligaments, or tendons between your hip and knee will also likely increase your risk of PFPS.
Overuse and injury
Overuse or repetitive stress from vigorous activities or sports is another common cause of PFPS. PFPS symptoms can also be triggered by sudden changes in physical activity levels. Additionally, if the kneecap is misaligned, it can rub against the thigh-bone (femur), causing pain and irritation.
Gender and age
Interestingly, PFPS has been more prevalent among young women, while hormonal aspects, muscle and bone growth mismatch, and low physical activity levels have been observed as contributing factors.
Your physiotherapist will conduct a thorough physical examination of your knee and the surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Your physio will also go through your medical history with you, and your range of motion will be evaluated.
Advanced imaging tests like X-rays and MRIs are generally not required for diagnosing patellofemoral pain syndrome, but they may be used in more severe or complicated cases. Imaging tests may also be used to eliminate the presence of any other conditions.
Physical therapy is often the first option for PFPS treatment. Your physio will also guide you to complete exercises aimed at strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight ones, which can significantly alleviate PFPS symptoms. You may be prescribed a brace for additional knee support in the first few weeks of your treatment.
Anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen is commonly prescribed to manage PFPS symptoms and pain. However, medication should be used in conjunction with other PFPS treatment methods for best results.
If necessary, your physio will likely recommend lifestyle changes such as weight loss, wearing proper footwear, and avoiding activities and high-impact sports that exacerbate PFPS.
For many suffering from PFPS, the question arises: Can Podiatry Help with PFPS? The answer is yes. At Align Health Collective, our podiatrists play a pivotal role in alleviating symptoms.
What will an Align Health Collective Podiatrist do?
If basic measures don't alleviate your symptoms, our podiatrists at Align Health Collective will:
Establish a clear diagnosis and coordinate relevant tests or evaluations.
Conduct an in-depth imaging tests to further evaluate the root causes leading to the injury.
Suggest footwear that aligns with the individual's needs.
Provide guidance on targeted exercise routines.
Evaluate the need for orthotics, given their potential benefits in providing temporary relief.
When required, facilitate a directed steroid injection for treatment
Exercise and conditioning
Regular exercise, conditioning, and strengthening can go a long way in preventing patellofemoral pain syndrome. Your physio may recommend daily exercises to strengthen your hip and thigh muscles.
Activities like swimming or cycling are low-impact alternatives that can help maintain fitness without putting undue stress on your knees. Moreover, if you’re planning on starting a new sport or increasing its frequency, this is best done gradually.
Using proper footwear and sports equipment can also help in preventing PFPS, while specialised insoles and shoes may be recommended.
Get in touch
Patellofemoral pain syndrome is a common but manageable condition, and while the condition is prevalent globally, the emphasis on conservative treatments like physical therapy and lifestyle changes is universal.
At Align Health Collective, we are dedicated to providing our patients with the highest level of care and support from consultation and diagnosis to treatment, because we understand how challenging and painful PFPS can be. Our team of experts personalises each treatment plan so that every client’s specific requirements are addressed.
We offer a number of reputable and efficient PFPS treatment options. We also offer advice on at-home remedies and preventative techniques to assist you in managing your symptoms and avoiding future damage and pain.