You probably remember from school learning the words “patella” and “femur”. The patella and the femur are both bones in our legs. The patella is more commonly known as the kneecap, and the femur is the thigh bone.
The patella is a small triangular bone in the front of your knee which moves with the knee as it flexes. It accomplishes this movement by gliding up and down a “track” at the end of your thigh bone, or femur.
At Hampton Roads Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, we treat a painful condition involving both these bones, medically known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.
What Causes Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) is a common injury resulting from overuse of the knee. Although the exact cause of this condition isn’t fully understood, researchers believe that the pain occurs when the kneecap is pulled too far outside the knee joint, which causes it to rub against the thigh bone beneath it.
This mislocation of the kneecap causes pain or a dull ache behind the kneecap when walking down stairs, squatting, running downhill or after sitting for a long time. Some people first notice the condition when they start a new exercise or sports activity, but it can also occur in less active people during the course of their normal daily activities.
Which Treatments Are Available for PFPS?
While PFPS is treatable, it’s important to realize at the outset that it may often take weeks — even months — for the pain to subside. Treatment typically consists of ice therapy, changing your activities and physical therapy.
- Ice Therapy: Icing your knee(s) for 10-20 minutes after activity helps reduce inflammation, ease pain and accelerate healing. You can strap an ice pack to your knee or knees to keep your hands free. You’ll be icing your knee(s) at least once daily — and more often on days when you’re experiencing more pain — for the duration of your treatment.
- Changing Activities: It’s a good idea to take a break from activities that put a great deal of pounding stress on your legs; for example, running, basketball and volleyball. Rather, try switching your exercise routine to something more forgiving on your joints, such as swimming or using an elliptical machine at your local gym. Once your treatment is complete, and your pain is gone, you can gradually reintroduce higher-impact exercise per your doctor’s instructions.
- Physical Therapy: Early intervention by an experienced physical therapist is ideal to reduce your pain while restoring your range of motion. Your therapist will work with you on restoring balance to your quadriceps muscles, the hip external rotators and abductors and the calf muscles. He or she will probably restrict certain physical activities for a time, while teaching you home exercises to stretch and strengthen various muscle groups in your legs.
The aforementioned treatment plan yields good results for 95 percent of patients with PFPS who conscientiously worked on all 3 treatment modalities. Other treatment possibilities include:
- Supplemental Treatment Modalities: You may benefit from knee braces or taping, as well as special insoles in your shoes to reduce impact on your knees. Additionally, your doctor may recommend a course of treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which are available both over-the-counter and by prescription.
- Steroid Injections and Surgery: Both these options are rarely necessary for PFPS, but they are available if less invasive treatment methods do not alleviate pain symptoms.
Please contact us at (757) 873-1554 to schedule an appointment, or request an appointment online. Hampton Roads Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine’s orthopaedic specialists and physical therapists are ready and able to formulate a treatment plan for your Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome — or any other orthopaedic issue you or a loved one may experience. With our 60 years of experience serving the Hampton Roads population’s orthopaedic needs, you are always in good hands!