Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome is also known as PFJ pain, anterior kneecap pain, patellar mal-tracking or more simply – runner’s knee. It is the most common injury amongst runners, but it is also prevalent with cyclists and gym enthusiasts. People who play sports that involve a lot of running like football or netball are also at risk of developing this type of knee injury.
What Does Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Feel Like?
Pain is usually a dull, aching type of pain, felt at the front of the kneecap or underneath the kneecap and can vary in severity. The pain will increase and likely be a sharper sensation during certain activities, particularly in movements like squatting or deep bending, using stairs, kneeling and even sitting.
Overall, patellofemoral pain is usually on the low to moderate level of severity, although it can definitely feel worse at certain times.
What Causes Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?
The knee joint is the largest joint in the body, moving like a hinge to help us move. The knee consists of 3 articulating surfaces which meet together – the thigh bone (femur) which sits on top of the shin bone (tibia) and the kneecap (patella) which sits in the groove of the femur.
Each of these 3 surfaces are covered with cartilage, and when healthy, it provides a lubricated surface so there is smooth, low-friction movement between these bones in the knee. As the knee moves during bending and straightening motions, the kneecap moves up and down in its groove, within the tendon that attaches the thigh muscle to the shin bone.
When the articulating surfaces between the kneecap and the femur become irritated, it can cause pain at the front of the knee – that’s when you have Patellofemoral Joint Pain Syndrome.
All runner’s knee pain that comes from sport is due to training errors such as too much activity is a short space of time and therefore the knee doesn’t have adequate time to adapt to the increased load. In the sufferers that don’t play sport, pain can be caused by injury to the cartilage, possibly when younger, or from osteoarthritis, generally in older people.
Aside from training errors, some of the other common factors contributing to PFJ pain are weakness in muscles like the glutes and hip stabilisers, poor running technique including excessive heel striking or over striding, and tightness in the various thigh muscles.
What Is Patella Tendinopathy?
Also known as patellar tendonitis or jumper’s knee is an injury to the patella tendon, which connects the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the tibia. Caused by overload to the tendon, pain is felt right on the tendon underneath the kneecap and doesn’t radiate around the whole kneecap like PFJ pain does.
Athletes that play jumping sports such as basketball, high jump and volleyball are the group most prone to suffering from patella tendinopathy. A sports physiotherapist who specialises in knee injuries and knee pain can diagnose your condition and provide advice on treatment.
Physiotherapy Treatment for Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
The initial acute pain that comes from irritation and inflammation can often be helped with rest, ice, taping and anti-inflammatory medication. If you have knee pain for more than a week, it is time to seek professional treatment.
A sports physio can provide ways to reduce the acute pain and also be able to identify the factors that are causing your knee pain. It is worth pointing out that it is important to determine the underlying cause of the irritation, so the issue doesn’t continue to arise.
Your physiotherapist can tailor a rehab plan specifically for you and will suggest collaborative treatment from a GP if necessary. Full rest is not recommended for runner’s knee because it deconditions the body, so your physio will assist you to manage your training loads to keep you as active as your body allows.
Strengthening exercises are vital for rehabilitation once your pain has been controlled. Using specialised equipment, a strength assessment will be carried out by your physio to determine any weakness in the muscle groups of the legs, that may be contributing to the knee pain.
Once your strength has improved, then a gradual increase in exercise intensity will have you build up to doing running drills and have you back to your sporting goal levels. Your physio can guide you on the correct running technique and the training you can continue so as to minimise a repeat injury.
Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy are a team of qualified and experienced professionals who will assist you the whole way through your knee injury recovery. They are specialised in many therapies including deep tissue massage, soft tissue therapy, post operative physiotherapy, and many more.
Chat with someone over the phone or book online today and begin your journey safely back to your chosen activity.