Patellofemoral Syndrome – Well What Is It?

If you’ve had weird,  anterior (front of the knee) knee pain that came on without any sort of direct injury, and you went to see an MD, there’s a good chance that you’ve gotten this diagnosis.

Patellofemoral syndrome, or Patellofemoral Pain syndrome, is the most common descriptor for non-specific knee pain. It can also leave you, the patient, fairly confused as to what exactly is wrong and how you can fix it.

Patellofemoral Syndrome or PFS, describes a disorder that involves a biomechanical imbalance around the knee, causing pain with motions, and in acute or chronic situations, pain without motion. The patellofemoral joint is the center of this – and describes the articulation between the femur and the patella. The syndrome describes a change in the working of the extensor mechanism of the knee – the quads, the patellofemoral joint and soft tissues surrounding it – that over time causes pain.

The Money Question Is – What Part of It Is Not Working? And How Do I Fix It?

To understand this completely, the workings of the extensor mechanisms must be understood; I won’t go into this in detail here unless you desire an anatomy class, but will cover the basics. There are several muscular, ligament and tendon attachments to the patella, or knee cap, that can contribute to causing pain as you move if stressed. All of the muscles above and below the knee contribute to the efficient working of the knee. And anytime that is thrown off, at some point there will be pain.

Think of the knee as a pulley system – and this analogy can be used for just about any body part. Your quadriceps, or quad muscles, have 4 vectors that act to straighten the knee. When either of these vectors become too tight or too weak, it affects the pulley system and can change how the forces on the fulcrum – or patella- are distributed. Although the quads are major offenders, they are not the only offenders; all of the muscles of the thigh can contribute to this, and in extreme cases even those of the lower leg.  Multiply that faulty fulcrum movement over a period of time (think of how many times you bend and straighten your knee in a day) and you have your mystery diagnosis and pain of Patellofemoral Syndrome.

There are also other diseases that can fall into this general category – Patellar tendinitis or Jumper’s knee, Sinding Larsen Johansson Syndrome, Osgood Schlatter’s syndrome, and even patellar subluxations and dislocations. All have varying things that uniquely define them, but they all revolve around the incorrect working of the patellofemoral joint.

There is hope – as this injury is classified usually as an overuse injury, it can be prevented. If you find yourself with this injury, guidance with a skilled physical therapist will help you to overcome your biomechanical issue and get you back moving quickly.

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Danelle Dickson PT, DPT, OCS

Danelle Dickson PT, DPT, OCS

Physical Therapist at Performance Plus Physical Therapy
Danelle Dickson received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Morgan State University in 2003, then her Doctorate Degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Delaware in 2007. After graduating, she earned her  Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist Certification in 2012. She is continually increasing her knowledge base with post graduate continuing education from manual based courses such as Institute of Physical Arts and St. Augustine courses. Additionally, she has also presented research at local (APTA) and international (IADMS) conferences on dancers, and has published her research with Journal of Dance Medicine and Science.

Danelle combines her 10+ year of clinical, research, and administrative experience  to produce a well rounded, patient driven experience at Performance Plus Physical Therapy. She currently works with patients with orthopedic, sports and Performing arts conditions, along with taking care of the local dance population, and mentoring local physical therapy students as a clinical instructor.
Danelle Dickson PT, DPT, OCS

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