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What is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). It’s a mouthful, that’s for sure. But what exactly is it? “Patellofemoral pain syndrome is pain at the front and center of the knee, under the kneecap,” said Marc Rosen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Banner Health Clinic in Glendale, Arizona. “Patients with this syndrome frequently complain of knee popping or cracking, or a grinding sensation, in the front of the knee.”

This painful knee syndrome is more commonly experienced by women. According to studies reported by the National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine, “anatomic, hormonal factors, knee laxity, and neuromuscular factors contribute to the higher risk” of women experiencing patellofemoral pain syndrome.

What causes patellofemoral pain syndrome?

Sometimes called “runner’s knee,” patellofemoral pain syndrome is a mechanical disorder of your kneecap. “This painful knee joint ailment is caused by an imbalance of forces over your kneecap accentuated by kneeling, squatting, climbing stairs or getting up from a low chair or the floor, causing pain over the front of the knee,” said Dr. Rosen. “Patellofemoral pain syndrome is common in athletes who jump or squat in sports like volleyball, basketball, and baseball.

However, if you live a mostly sedentary lifestyle and then suddenly use your knees for strenuous exertion, you could be at risk of experiencing this painful syndrome, explained Dr. Rosen. “Sometimes when we decide, ‘it’s time to get active so I’ll start to exercise,’ the knee screams ‘no!’ as a result of the sudden start of activity,” said Dr. Rosen. “This can be prevented by gradually increasing your activity level.”

Some studies on this syndrome have also shown a correlation between an increased Q-angle and patellofemoral pain syndrome. The Q-angle, or quadriceps angle, is “an imaginary line from the side of the pelvis, through the knee to the ankle,” said Dr. Rosen. “The Q-angle is naturally increased in women, as the female pelvis is wider to allow for childbirth, thus accentuating this anatomic feature.”

Knee pain treatment options

If you’re experiencing the knee popping, cracking or grinding sensation Dr. Rosen referred to, you may have patellofemoral pain syndrome. An orthopedic doctor can do a physical examination of your knee looking for the presence of mechanical symptoms, like clicking or popping, while moving your knee through a range of motions. The doctor will also examine you for the presence of an increased “Q-angle.”

If your orthopedic or sports medicine doctor diagnoses you with patellofemoral pain syndrome, your best bet for pain relief is exercise modification or physical therapy, according to Dr. Rosen. “Correction of the imbalance in your knee is the most successful treatment,” said Dr. Rosen. You may also find relief in using a patellar brace. Only in severe cases, where arthritis has developed, is surgery recommended.

If you’re experiencing possible symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome, consider seeing an orthopedic specialist. Visit BannerHealth.com to find an expert near you.

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