What is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome and How Can You Rehabilitate It?

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Say you have pain in the front of your knee. Your doctor runs a series of tests and rules out injuries or tears, bursitis, fractures, tendonitis, osteoarthritis, dislocation, gout… pretty much everything he can think of. Well then, you’ve got Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS or PPS).

Sometimes called Runner’s Knee because it’s common in runners, Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome is also a familiar problem in teens, cyclists and, ironically, in people who spend a lot of time sitting in a chair.

Basically, Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome is just a broad term that describes general anterior knee pain without any direct known cause. Often it coincides with overuse and will go away with rest, but there’s no guarantee of either cause or treatment.


What Are the Symptoms of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?

Mostly it’s just pain. Usually the pain is in front of your kneecap, but it could be around the edges of the kneecap or even behind it. It can hurt to walk, run, squat, kneel, or even stand up from your chair. The pain is usually worse on hills or stairs. There might even be knee swelling, popping, or a grinding feeling.


Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Treatments

PFPS often resolves on its own with time and rest. This can be frustrating for athletes, but consider the alternative: an injury that never heals or even gets worse because you didn’t allow it to recover. If you want to keep working out, just switch to something easier on the knees. Swimming is a great option if you have access to a pool.

Some doctors might advise ice, wraps, elevation, or NSAID medications to reduce any swelling and alleviate pain. Keep in mind, though, that swelling is part of the body’s healing process. Attempts to suppress it may be counterproductive.

Stretching and strengthening exercises have been shown to be helpful, especially those targeting the quadriceps muscle, which works directly with the kneecap.

If pain persists in spite of all your best efforts, you might find yourself visiting a specialist such as an orthopedic surgeon. But do your best to make surgery a last resort, as it’s often risky and—for something like a “syndrome” where the true cause of pain is unknown—ineffective. 


Preventing Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Before It Starts

You know what they say about an ounce of prevention. And in general, we know that in order to stay healthy you need to exercise. But what about something like Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, where the problem might be because of overuse? We really don’t want to recommend exercising less, so we recommend exercising smarter:

  • Exercise regularly, not sporadically. Don’t skip working out for several weeks and then jump in with everything you’ve got on your first day back. Ease into it.
  • Similarly, even when exercising regularly, slowly build up your strength and skills. Don’t overdo it.
  • If you’re a runner, consider whether you might benefit from orthotics. Wear shoes with appropriate support. Buy new shoes every six months, or sooner if you put in a lot of miles. Run on softer surfaces rather than concrete.
  • Warm up before working out.
  • Get exercise advice from your doctor or physical therapist.
  • Train those quads.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to keep the pressure off your knees.