Chondromalacia Patella (Patellofemoral Syndrome)

WHAT IS CHONDROMALACIA OR RUNNER’S KNEE?

Patellar chondromalacia, often referred to as patellofemoral pain syndrome or runner’s knee, is a condition marked by pain in the front of the knee. While anyone can experience this condition, it is most common in runners and athletes.

Often, this condition is caused by a poor alignment of the patella (kneecap) as it slides over the femur, or thigh bone. Generally, the patella is pulled in one diretion and out of proper alignment due to the surrounding muscles either being too tight or too loose. Physical activities like running that affect these muscles can often exacerbate the condition.

RUNNER’S KNEE SYMPTOMS

Common symptoms of chondromalacia patella or patellofemoral syndrome include a dull, aching pain in the front of the knee accompanied by moderate to heavy swelling. Some patients may also experience a grinding or clicking sensation when bending and straightening the affected knee. The pain can be further aggravated by strenuous exercise, walking up or down stairs, or sitting for extended periods of time.

RUNNER’S KNEE TREATMENT

Chondromalacia patella or patellofemoral syndrome often responds favorably to more conservative treatments. Symptoms generally subside with some combination of rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and a physical therapy program that engages the muscles surrounding the knees and hips. Wearing a brace around the knee, taping it, and regularly icing it will also relieve pain.

One exercise that your physical therapist may recommend is to strengthen an important part of the quadriceps muscle called the VMO:

Level 1:

Sit on the edge of a chair. Bend one knee back in under the chair. Stretch the other leg in front of you with your knee straight. Now, place your fingertips on the thigh muscle just above the inside of your knee and the other hand on the thigh muscle just below the outside of your hip. Contract your thigh muscle so that the inside tightens first and the outside is as relaxed as possible. Hold for five seconds. Relax and repeat. When this becomes easy, move on to level 2

Level 2:

Repeat level 1, but this time with your knee bent. Place your fingertips on the thigh muscle just above the inside of your knee and the other hand on the thigh muscle just below the outside of your hip. Contract your thigh muscle so that the inside tightens first and the outside is as relaxed as possible. Hold for 5 seconds. Relax and repeat.

CHONDROMALACIA PATELLA SURGERY & RECOVERY

Surgery

Surgery is rarely perfomed for chondromalacia patella or patellofemoral syndrome. One circumstance in which it would be necessary is if the cartilage lining the bone flakes or cracks off and causes buckling or locking as it rolls around the joint. Another indication that surgery might be required is if the knee cap is so unstable that it repeatedly dislocates. In this case, the knee cap can be realigned by reconstructing a stabilizing ligament, or the bone can be cut and aligned to avoid future dislocations.

Recovery Time

Neither the condition of chondromalacia patella nor the milder patellofemoral syndrome can “heal,” but pain can be managed with physical therapy and exercises performed at home. By undertaking a regular exercise program, pain should lessen within six to eight weeks and you will likely avoid future flareups.

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