Protect Those Knees

By Erin Higins, DPT
Jumpstart Physical Therapy

The knee joint is one of the most common places for people of all ages to have pain. There are many causes of knee pain including ligament injuries including ACL or MCL, arthritis, tendonitis, meniscus issues. This article will discuss the most common cause of knee pain, patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome occurs when the kneecap (patella) does not move properly in the groove created by your femur. The patella should move relatively straight up and down when you bend or straighten your knee. Commonly, the patella glides too far to the outside of your leg, thus creating pain.

Typical symptoms include pain behind or around the patella. It is often increased with activities such as running, stairs, squats, and lunges. The pain can range from dull, achy pains to sharp, severe pains. The pain typically gradually gets worse over time and occurs of apparently random onset.

There are many potential causes for the poor patellar tracking, all of which involve some sort of imbalance in the forces around the knee. For instance, weak hip muscles may cause the femur (thigh bone) to rotate inwards on the patella, a tight IT band may pull the knee cap out to the side, a tight quad may pull the knee cap too high, or a tight knee joint may cause the knee cap to get "stuck."

It is important to determine the cause of the dysfunction in order to properly address the pain and prevent it from coming back. Common treatments include foam rolling and stretching the leg muscles especially the IT band, as well as hip strengthening with exercises such as leg lifts in side-lying, clams, and bridges. Orthotics may also be of use if abnormal foot and ankle alignment cause, in turn, abnormal forces on the knee. A knee brace that keeps the kneecap from tracking out to the side may help as well. Finally, rest and activity modification may be beneficial, especially in cases of severe pain.

Patellofemoral pain is one of the most common causes of knee pain and can limit daily function at times so if the pain persists or interferes with your daily life, if may be wise to seek professional help to ensure proper treatment.