Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: Symptoms, Treatment, & Recovery
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) is a general term used to describe pain at the front of the knee and around the kneecap. This condition is common in those who regularly participate in sports, which has led to the use of the term “runner’s knee” to describe PFPS. Although it is commonly experienced by athletes, anyone can be affected by PFPS, and the condition can make daily life and activities more difficult. Proper treatment for Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome can help relieve pain and other symptoms, while also allowing you to keep enjoying the sports and activities you love.
What Causes Runner’s Knee?
Pain around the front of the knee and kneecap is often caused by vigorous physical activity or participation in sports. Activities like jogging, squatting, and jumping put repeated stress on the knees. The exact cause of PFPS is often unknown, but other contributing factors may include:
- Kneecap misalignment, such as the kneecap sitting too high in the knee joint
- Weak muscles in the knee or thigh
- Use of improper sports equipment or training techniques
- Sudden changes in footwear or activity level
Runner’s Knee Risk Factors
Certain factors can lead to the development of runner’s knee, or make it more likely for a person to develop it. Suddenly changing training or physical activity levels or techniques can lead to pain, along with not allowing the body to rest for an adequate period of time following an injury. Previous injury to the knee or area surrounding it can also increase the risk of runner’s knee, as the biomechanics of the knee may have been altered by the injury. Other potential risk factors of PFPS include excessive body weight (since more stress is placed on the knees), gender (women are at an increased risk), and certain careers (including those that require frequent squatting).
Symptoms of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
The core symptom of PFPS is a dull, aching pain at the front of the knee, which is normally related to activity and begins gradually. The pain can occur in one or both knees. Other symptoms of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome can include:
- Sharp pain when using the knee
- Knee crepitus (grinding or crunching sounds within the knee)
- Pain, friction, or popping when moving upward or downward
- Swelling in the front of the knee
- Knee stiffness at rest
How is Runner’s Knee Diagnosed?
PFPS can normally be accurately diagnosed with a physical exam. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you, and ask you about when they started, what makes them worse, and whether you have experienced a knee or leg injury in the past. They will also examine your knee or ask you to perform certain activities (such as squatting or jumping), to test your knee strength, alignment, and stability. In some cases, imaging studies such as x-ray or MRI may be used to rule out damage to the bones of the knee or to assess the knee if symptoms do not improve with time.
Treatment for PFPS
Most cases of PFPS can be successfully treated nonsurgically with lifestyle modifications targeted at relieving pain and restoring strength and range of motion. Treatment such as physical therapy is common for runner’s knee. The course of treatment your doctor recommends will depend on a variety of factors, including your age, overall health history, pain level, preference, and more.
Nonsurgical Treatment for Runner’s Knee
At-home, conservative treatment for runner’s knee includes the commonly used RICE method – Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Your doctor will likely recommend that you take a break from vigorous physical activity and exercise until your pain subsides. They may also recommend the use of anti-inflammatory medications or orthotics to help align and stabilize your joints.
Another nonsurgical option to address runner’s knee is physical therapy. Certain exercises can help you regain knee strength, endurance, and range of motion, with your doctor guiding you toward the most beneficial stretches for you. Strengthening and stretching the quadriceps helps to stabilize the kneecap and aid with symptoms of PFPS. Be sure to talk to your doctor about physical therapy for your condition before trying any stretches on your own.
Surgical Treatment for Runner’s Knee
Surgical treatment is very rarely needed for runner’s knee, as most cases improve with nonsurgical methods. Surgery may be recommended when the condition is severe and does not improve with conservative treatment methods. There are a few surgical options for PFPS, including arthroscopy, where a small camera is inserted into the knee joint. During arthroscopy, debridement or lateral release techniques can be performed. If realignment of the kneecap is necessary, your surgeon may opt for a tibial tubercle transfer. If your doctor at Raleigh Orthopaedic recommends surgery for your case of runner’s knee, we will ensure that your questions are answered and concerns are addressed every step of the way.
Recovery from runner’s knee, when conservative treatment methods are followed, usually takes around four to six weeks. Proper treatment and rest are key to your recovery, and your doctor will provide instructions on the steps you should follow. However, since the causes of PFPS can vary based on each individual and the extent of their knee pain, recovery may take a shorter or longer period of time. Recovery time after surgery also depends on the patient and what type of surgery they received. Full recovery from arthroscopy can take anywhere from one week to several months depending on the specifics of the procedure. No matter what type of treatment your doctor recommends, they will let you know when you can resume your regular activities.
How Can I Prevent Runner’s Knee?
A key step to preventing runner’s knee is to avoid overstressing your knees. This can be accomplished by incorporating stretches into your exercise or running routine, gradually increasing your physical activity level, and investing in the proper equipment for exercise, such as good-quality running shoes. Weight loss may also be recommended if excess weight is putting extra stress on your knees. Always remember to warm up before you exercise and avoid certain exercises that may have caused knee pain in the past.
Expert Knee Care at Raleigh Orthopaedic
Those in need of comprehensive orthopedic care in Wake County, NC can trust the knee specialists at Raleigh Orthopaedic to deliver the quality care you are looking for. We work with patients facing a wide range of knee conditions and injuries, providing our expertise from diagnosis to recovery. If you suspect you may have runner’s knee or another painful orthopedic condition, please contact us to schedule an appointment at one of our six convenient locations today.