Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome and chondromalacia patella

Ross Hauser, MD

In this article, we will explore the various treatment options that can help people today with chondromalacia patella, patellofemoral pain syndrome, or “runner’s knee” get back to their sport or activities. We will discuss the various causes of a traumatic knee injury, degenerative arthritis, sudden onset from overtraining, and the development of the pain syndrome following arthroscopic knee surgery.

Article outline:

Surgery and other treatments

You started experiencing knee pain, your kneecap is sliding out of place, you can no longer exercise or walk down a flight of stairs without pain. You need help.

Above I discussed the various ways your knee pain may have developed. Over the years we have heard many stories and case histories from people about their knee pain and have been able to provide a composite view of the challenges many people face.

If you are like the many patients we see, you started experiencing knee pain and that pain became the first step in a long journey of treatments. At first, it was not quite a sharp pain but rather a chronic dull pain that seemed to center on the front of your knee around the knee cap. Then it started to get worse and it started to affect the way you move, work, and participate in sport or exercise.

You may have been suggested to exercise and get physical therapy, and were told this will probably help you. You may have been the person that it did not help. Your story may go something like this:

I have chondromalacia patella. It has been bothering me for a year and a half. I have been doing the strengthening exercises that were recommended to me but I am not getting results or relief from the pain. At first, it was only my left knee that was the problem. Now I have swelling and discomfort in my right knee too. My situation is getting worse day by day. I have pain when I walk long distances or stand still for a while. I have avoided all my sports activities. All of this occurred when I started to run long distances on the treadmill.

What would we do in a case like this? This is explained below.

But I am not an athlete, it hurts just the same:

The development of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome after arthroscopic knee surgery will be discussed below.

What are we seeing in this image? A source of knee pain.

This simple illustration may explain a lot of complex pain. On the left, we have a normal knee joint. On the right, we see inflamed chondral cartilage, the cartilage of the back of the knee cap, and in the knee groove where the knee cap is supposed to slide.

At some point, you decide that you can no longer manage this pain on your own with over-the-counter pain relief medications, knee braces, and ace bandages so you go to a health care provider.

You may have a discussion with your healthcare provider, in this discussion, he/she may discuss with you chondromalacia patella. (Chondro means cartilage, malacia means breakdown, and patella means kneecap.) Thus, chondromalacia patella refers to cartilage breakdown underneath the kneecap. Your health care provider may also call this, patellofemoral dysfunction or patellar-tracking dysfunction. If your pain is severe, he/she may discuss with you Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. If you are an athlete, your clinician may call your condition “runner’s knee,” which is simply a broad description of knee pain that is coming from the knee cap area attributed to overuse.

Whatever it is called, this problem you have is a problem that began as a patellar-tracking problem. You are having pain when the underside of the kneecap is abnormally rubbing against the thigh bone.

I don’t understand what my problem is. “No matter what you call it, you have knee pain.”

People who have patella-related pain are sometimes confused by diagnosis, treatment plan, and a general understanding of what is going on in their knee. Their frustration in multiple diagnoses and a lot of testing is in fact displayed in the statement, “whatever you call it, I have pain.”

A study in the journal Clinics in Sports Medicine (1) offered this challenge to doctors and patients in understanding problems of the knee centered on the patella.

“Patellofemoral pain syndrome is a frequently encountered overuse disorder that involves the patellofemoral region and often presents as anterior (front) knee pain. Patellofemoral pain can be difficult to diagnose. Not only do the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment remain challenging, but the terminology used to describe Patellofemoral pain is used inconsistently and can be confusing. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) seems to be multifactorial, resulting from a complex interaction among intrinsic anatomic and external training factors. Although clinicians frequently make the diagnosis of Patellofemoral pain syndrome, no consensus exists about its etiology or the factors most responsible for causing pain.”

That study was published in 2010 and reflects a problem in 2010. Certainly, things have changed in eleven years. Perhaps what has changed is that doctors are more aware that Patellofemoral pain is a confusing diagnosis. But confusion is still there in 2022 as we will see below.

Doctors are more aware that Patellofemoral pain is a confusing diagnosis

In 2017, building on this theme, of difficulty in diagnosis and difficulty in understanding how to stop the progression of knee deterioration and provide treatment, doctors wrote in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine,(2) of the problems that need to be recognized in athletes.

“Patellofemoral pain is a very common problem in athletes who participate in jumping, cutting, and pivoting sports. Several risk factors may play a part in the pathogenesis of Patellofemoral pain. Overuse, trauma, and intrinsic risk factors are particularly important among athletes. Physical examination has a key role in Patellofemoral pain diagnosis. Furthermore, common risk factors should be investigated, such as hip muscle dysfunction, poor core muscle endurance, muscular tightness, excessive foot pronation, and patellar malalignment. Imaging is seldom needed in special cases. Many possible interventions are recommended for patellofemoral pain management. Due to the multifactorial nature of patellofemoral pain, the clinical approach should be individualized, and the contribution of different factors should be considered and managed accordingly. In most cases, activity modification and rehabilitation should be tried before any surgical interventions.”

In April 2022, a paper in the journal Musculoskeletal science & practice (35) lead by researchers in Queen Mary University London showed that little by way of understanding patellofemoral pain had been made and that doctors were relying on best hope treatments. This is what they wrote:

“Patellofemoral pain is common and has a poor long-term prognosis. There is a lack of clarity about the clinical reasoning of recognized inter-disciplinary experts in the published literature.”

What they are saying is that patellofemoral pain do not have a clear path of treatment. The best treatment plan involves (according to a survey of 19 clinical experts with about 19 years of experience from different medical specialties) the following:

We will discuss these treatments below.

The many problems in the knee that surround a patella diagnosis

Typically a patient with knee problems will include among the problems just mentioned in the above research study, other problems including a meniscus tear, knee bursitis, developing osteoarthritis along with a patella diagnosis in their medical history. They will also have, in many cases, a corresponding treatment program for each individual problem.

Other patients we see will simply report that want to be treated for “patellofemoral syndrome,” or “chondromalacia in my patella.” Usually, they contact us after conservative treatments and physical therapy have not helped enough. Sometimes they even contact us after a surgery such as a patella debridement, a tibial tubercle osteotomy, or a patellofemoral ligament reconstruction were tried. (We discuss these procedures below). So their medical history up until the point of contacting our center is one of continued and in some cases severe knee pain, chronic knee swelling, walking difficulties, problems walking up and downstairs, and the near or total inability to run or jump.

A knee pain that no one understands and in some cases, no one believes

Sometimes people will report pain that no one understands and in some cases, no one believes. While we will discuss this at length below, we want to touch on a November 2020 study (3) here to highlight and address this problem.

In this study, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Concordia University Wisconsin, and Marquette University outlined the problems of “more pain than the patient with patella disorder should have,” and what may cause it.

Learning points:

This study’s aim was to “determine whether the evidence supports manifestations of central sensitization in individuals with Patellofemoral pain. (Simply, is this real?)

The findings?

Intent to study neurophysiological changes of brain and spinal cord in individuals with patellofemoral pain

Research has shown that chronic pain changes brain function. Research also suggests that patellofemoral pain can significantly alter brain function as demonstrated by the above research on Central sensitization (heightened pain). In July 2021 (4) researchers announced their intent to study neurophysiological changes of brain and spinal cord in individuals with patellofemoral pain. This is what the research authors wrote: “Reduced neuromuscular control due to altered neurophysiological functions of the central nervous system has been suggested to cause movement deficits in individuals with patellofemoral pain (PFP). However, the underlying neurophysiological measures of the brain and spinal cord in this population remain to be poorly understood. ” The intent of this research is to understand it better.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome – Why women feel more pain

In April 2017,  Brazilian and English researchers combined to publish research in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport suggesting a serious problem for female runners.

We touched on this briefly above, overtraining, physical therapy, the continuance of running may make for more pain than the damage should be creating.

A combined research team from the University of Kentucky and the University of Iowa wrote in the Clinical Journal of Pain:

In their study, the researchers looked at twenty females diagnosed with Patellofemoral Pain and 20 age-matched pain-free females participated in this study. What they found was the frontal plane knee angle (an unnatural knee alignment)  existed in the Patellofemoral Pain group which was not present in the control group.

In March 2022 doctors writing in the Journal of sport rehabilitation (37) evaluated brain activity during experimental knee pain and its relationship to kinesiophobia in patients with patellofemoral pain. They were looking specifically at young females. What they found was greater kinesiophobia was positively associated with greater brain activity  and associated with alterations in central nociceptive processing.

What are we seeing in this chart? You cannot grow knee cartilage in ibuprofen

The simple explanation of this chart is that researchers took dog cartilage cells and tried to grow more cartilage in an ibuprofen solution to test the effect of ibuprofen on cartilage. What did they find out? Ibuprofen reduced the concentration of cartilage glycosaminoglycan. It reduces cartilage growth.

Ibuprofen reduced the concentration of cartilage glycosaminoglycan. It reduces cartilage growth. 

So what do you do about it? You may be surprised that the health care provider is recommending the same over-the-counter pain medications and knee braces and knee pain treatments you tried on your own that did not work for you.

Some patients report the frustration of going from specialist to specialist and still getting the same recommendations for treatment, or better understood as “pain management,” that has not worked for them before and is in fact part of the reason they are going from specialist to specialist.

Suggested treatments that you may be recommended over and over.

Physical therapy? Physical therapy will typically fail if the strong connective ligament and tendons needed to provide resistance to maximize muscle gain and knee stability are not strong enough.

What are we seeing in this image?

The patella is pulled and pushed in all directions. It is pulled by the Iliotibial band, it is stabilized in place by the lateral patellar retinaculum and the medial patellar retinaculum. The quadriceps move the patella upwards, the patellar ligament moves it downward. When one of these structures is weakened or damaged through degenerative wear and tear, the knee cap becomes unstable.

The patella is pulled and pushed in all directions. It is pulled by the Iliotibial band, it is stabilized in place by the lateral patellar retinaculum and the medial patellar retinaculum. The quadriceps move the patella upwards, the patellar ligament moves it downward. When one of these structures is weakened or damaged through degenerative wear and tear, the knee cap becomes unstable.

Physical therapy is a very appealing option because it is exercise and people believe exercise is always beneficial. If you are reading this article physical therapy has likely failed you as well.

Physical therapy will typically fail if the strong connective ligament and tendons needed to provide resistance to maximize muscle gain and stability are not strong enough. We will address this problem and offer our evidence for regenerative medicine injections to correct this problem below.

Exercise can work in some

Doctors at the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University examined the effectiveness of exercise in patients in 27 patients with patellofemoral pain. To see if the exercise program was effective they looked for pain reduction, improvement in function, a reduction in kinesiophobia (our fear of movement) among signs that symptoms were getting better.

These are the results they published in the journal Physical Therapy in Sport (5) July 2021. “The results of this study demonstrate that the current exercise recommendations can improve function and kinesiophobia and reduce pain and atherogenic muscle inhibition (a weakness or atrophy in the quadriceps muscle) in individuals with patellofemoral pain. There is a need for reconsideration of the current exercise guidelines (look for more aggressive exercise types) in stronger individuals with patellofemoral pain.

In November 2021, doctors writing in The Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association (6) examined the effects of tibiofemoral (thigh-shin articulation or bend) joint mobilization on pain and range of motion in patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome. In this paper, doctors found “Tibiofemoral joint mobilizations with hip and knee stretching and strengthening exercises were found to be more effective in reducing pain, and increasing range of motion as well as pressure pain threshold. ”

Using painkillers – Doctors issue concerns and warnings – Approximately one in five adolescents with longstanding knee pain reported pain medication use.

A December 2021 study from Aalborg and Southern Denmark Universities in Denmark published in the medical review Scandinavian Journal of Pain (7) has doctors expressing concerns that “the prevalence of pain medication use for adolescent knee pain and factors associated with use are not well understood.” In other words, there is a problem specifically in adolescents (age 10-19) with longstanding knee symptoms.

“whether pharmacological therapy is the best pain management option at this young age is debatable”

Conclusions: “Approximately one in five adolescents with longstanding knee pain reported pain medication use, particularly in adolescents with patellofemoral pain. Knee-related symptoms most consistently associated with the use of pain medications in this population . . .Self-reported pain medication use is common in adolescents with longstanding knee pain, even though whether pharmacological therapy is the best pain management option at this young age is debatable. Reliance on pain medication at an early age could potentially hamper the development of healthy pain coping strategies and increase the risk of dependence and misuse later in life.”

Patients waiting for an MRI delay exercise and physical therapy while waiting outcomes. Some researchers say this is no good

In July 2021 doctors at the Science in Physical Therapy, Bellin College, The University of Newcastle, Tufts University School of Medicine, and Baylor University say routine knee radiographs should be discouraged for individuals with non-traumatic knee pain, but they are often still ordered despite limited evidence for their value in guiding treatment choices. Writing in the PM & R: The Journal of Injury, Function, and Rehabilitation, (8) they further suggest: “Radiograph utilization may delay the use of physical therapy, which has been associated with improved outcomes. . . The research concludes: Routine use of radiographs for PFP is not warranted, and can potentially delay appropriate treatment.”

The MRI will not see your knee pain getting worse and it will confuse you and your doctor

When we talk about MRIs it is often best to listen to radiologists and the surgeons that rely on the MRI for surgical or non-surgical recommendations. In 2012 Doctors at the Finish Institute of Military Medicine published research (9) that found that MRI was ineffective in helping doctors determine the extent of injury in instances of chondromalacia patellae.

In 2018, as well as in 2020, the problem remained. In The Eurasian Journal of Medicine, (10) doctors in Turkey announced: “as chondromalacia stage advances, the symptom severity worsens and knee functions decline; however, MRI measurements do not show the difference between early and advanced stage chondromalacia patella patients.”

Will a knee brace or tape hold my knee together, even with “appropriate caution?”

In physical therapy, strong connective ligaments and tendons are needed to provide resistance. In normal everyday movement, strong connective ligaments and tendons are needed to hold the knee stable and together. Some believe an external brace or tape may help do this job:

Research in the medical journal Joints, (11) suggests that you may benefit from a knee brace or some type of elastic knee sleeve for your patella-related knee pain and help you return to your sport. Many of you reading this article are probably behind a knee brace or sleeve helping.

Doctors at Queen Mary University of London wrote in the medical journal Sports Medicine (12) that doctors “with appropriate caution” should consider brace and taping:

Why the caution? Because there is no good evidence that these treatments work for everyone. Further taping and bracing provide a false sense of stability and can lead to greater knee damage.

Knee braces do provide relief from fear

Some people will need a knee brace but it may be more of a physiological than functional need. In April 2020, researchers published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (13) the outcomes of people with patellofemoral pain wearing a knee brace for two weeks compared to a group of people who had patellofemoral pain and did not wear a knee brace for two weeks. Results found that knee braces reduced kinesiophobia (fear of movement) in people with patellofemoral pain after two weeks of wearing one and at a six-week follow-up. The researchers concluded that “a knee brace may be considered within clinically reasoned paradigms to facilitate exercise therapy interventions for people with Patellofemoral Pain.” In other words, if the knee brace gives them the confidence to exercise, that would be okay.

Retraining the way you run? A new study kicks off to explore gait training

In May 2021 researchers announced their intent to study the effectiveness of gait training in patients with Patellofemoral pain. (14) Here is the rationale for this study.

“Patellofemoral pain (PFP) is highly prevalent in runners. Physical therapies were proved to be effective in the treatment of Patellofemoral pain. Gait retraining is an important method of physical therapy, but its effectiveness and safety for Patellofemoral pain remained controversial. The previous review suggests gait retraining in the treatment of Patellofemoral pain warrants consideration. However, recent publications of randomized controlled studies and case series studies indicated the positive effect of gait retraining in clinical and functional outcomes, which re-raise the focus of gait retraining.

(The study’s aim) is to publish findings that will provide information about the safety of gait retraining and their effect on relieving pain and improving the function of the lower limb on runners with Patellofemoral pain.

The interest in gait retraining is summarized in a December 2019 study in The American Journal of Sports Medicine (15). This study investigated whether a 10% increase in the running step rate influences frontal-plane kinematics of the hip and pelvis as well as clinical outcomes in runners with Patellofemoral pain.

“Unsatisfactory long-term prognosis of conservative treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome”

Why consider these treatments if your chances are 1 in 4 that they will work for you and less that they will get you back to your sport?

In 2018, these same researchers made clear in the journal Physical Therapy in Sport (16)  that: “Long-term (traditional) treatment outcomes of (Patellofemoral pain) are poor, with estimates that more than 50% of people with the condition will report symptoms beyond 5 years following diagnosis. Additionally, emerging evidence indicates that PFP may be on a continuum with patellofemoral osteoarthritis.”

So why are these things not working? The heading above is the title of a research paper from Danish researchers published in the Journal of the Danish Medical Association. (17)

These are very low numbers. Why consider these treatments if your chances are 1 in 4 that they will work for you and less that they will get you back to your sport?

As mentioned above, supportive knee braces, arch supports, and taping may also be recommended to improve the alignment of the kneecap. The problem with this approach is that they do not repair the deteriorated cartilage in the patellae.

Unexplained and significant elevation in knee pain that your doctor may not believe

Something is going on beyond normal biomechanical problems

Your doctor is looking at your MRI. Your knee does not look worse. But your pain is. You are confusing your health care providers as nothing seems to work for you. Maybe this is “all in your head?” because it is not on your MRI.

You may also be researching for your son or daughter who is confusing their doctors with a description of elevated pain that “should not be there.”

Doctors writing in the journal Physical Therapy in Sport, (18) wrote that what your son or daughter is trying to describe as heightened pain, is real. Read this:

Adolescent athletes presented higher levels of pain and lower physical function status compared with physically active non-athletes. This provides an important insight into the management of (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome) in adolescent athletes as the worst functional status is linked with poor prognosis in patients with Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.”

Something is causing more pain in the athletes than the non-athletes.

“The patient often bounces from practitioner to practitioner, physiotherapist as well as surgeon, for some relief of symptoms”

Physiotherapist Jenny McConnell wrote in the medical journal Manual Therapy:(19)

“Although the management of Patellofemoral Pain has improved greatly, there is still a category of patient who tends to have recalcitrant (non-responsive) symptoms, which are difficult to manage. The patient often bounces from practitioner to practitioner, physiotherapist as well as surgeon, for some relief of symptoms. However, often the underlying source of the pain is not well understood, so treatment can aggravate the symptoms.”

When knee pain is worse than it should be and nothing is working, what next?

Leading university researchers in the United Kingdom and Denmark, working within the UK’s National Health Services at Derby, made some observations of the patient’s mindset in regard to his/her diagnosis of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome. (20) These published 2018 findings are similar to what we see in patients here at Caring Medical. Something is going on beyond normal biomechanical problems. Here is the UK research:

The researchers concluded: “The current consensus that best-evidence treatments consisting of hip and knee strengthening (physical therapy and exercise) may not be adequate to address the fears and beliefs identified in the current study.

Hip and knee strengthening (physical therapy and exercise) may not be adequate to heal the problem. Are they actually making it worse? Especially in women?

Doctors in the Netherlands writing in the medical journal Pain Medicine, (21) reviewed the theory that repeated stress and overloading on a knee with patellofemoral pain may sensitize nociceptors (nerve cell endings) to be even more sensitive to painful stimuli (hyperalgesia).

Here is the conclusion from this research: “Local and generalized pressure hyperalgesia, suggesting alterations in both peripheral and central pain processing (you feel pain more), were present in patients with patellofemoral pain, though females with patellofemoral pain were most likely to suffer from generalized hyperalgesia.”

Patellofemoral pain syndrome impacts the whole body

In a third 2018 study, doctors at the Erasmus University Medical Center in The Netherlands published findings that help understand patellofemoral pain syndrome impacting the whole body. Publishing in the journal Pain Medicine,(22) the Dutch team found knee and generalized (whole-body) stress and overload hyperalgesia in these patients suggesting the knee pain caused alterations in both peripheral (musculoskeletal nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord) and central pain (nerves in the central nervous system) processing.

These troubling findings were expanded on in research published in May 2017 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine where the physiological component of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome was examined:

Patellofemoral cartilage surgery?

Patellofemoral cartilage surgery

For many people, surgery may or “will have to be recommended.” For many people, surgery will be a successful procedure and meet their expectations and hope. We typically do not see patients who had successful surgery. We see the patients who did not, have lingering complications or a general sense of instability about the knee.

For a frustrated athlete, the call of surgery is strong. Surgery, however, is usually not indicated for Patella Pain Syndrome unless the non-surgical treatment options we explored earlier in this article have been exhausted.

When we discuss surgery it is always best to bring in surgical consults from medical research.

“Unrealistic expectations are common and will lead to disappointment.”

In June 2018, research led by Harvard Medical School published in the journal Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine (26) warned surgeons and patients, especially athletes, to have a realistic expectation of what cartilage repair in the patellofemoral joint surgery can really offer them:

“Cartilage repair in the patellofemoral joint has demonstrated increasingly good outcomes in patients with patellofemoral cartilage defects after conservative treatment has failed. . . It is of utmost importance to discuss with the patient current functional limitations in sports and activities of daily living, to elucidate the patient’s goals and expectations, and to go over the rehabilitation and recovery time.

Unrealistic expectations are common and will lead to disappointment.

Careful evaluation of the knee and lower extremity, through physical examination and imaging studies, is crucial. This will allow planning a comprehensive treatment approach for the cartilage repair procedure, as well as any additional pathology that needs to be addressed in a staged or concomitant fashion.”

What is being said here is that the surgery is usually successful as far as surgery goes. But it is usually not successful in helping the patient/athlete with their goals have had the surgery. To get back to sports or work quickly. “Unrealistic expectations are common and will lead to disappointment.”

The prevalence and change in neuropathic pain or pain catastrophizing before and 12 months following patellar stabilization surgery for patellofemoral instability

A July 2021 paper in the journal International orthopaedics lead by University of Oxford (36) attempted to determine the prevalence and change in neuropathic pain or pain catastrophizing before and 12 months following patellar stabilization surgery for patellofemoral instability.



“This rise in surgical intervention has brought about various complications.”

In the journal Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review, (March 2017) (27) Dr. Nick Caplan Ph.D., wrote:

“In recent years, surgical interventions for patellofemoral joint instability have gained popularity, possibly revitalized by the recent advances in our understanding of patellofemoral joint instability and the introduction of a number of new surgical procedures. This rise in surgical intervention has brought about various complications.”

Dr. Caplan and his associates went on to describe the various complications associated with certain surgeries including:

Younger patients have better surgical results, but what do you do with older patients? Patellofemoral arthroplasty?

In November 2019, (28) orthopedists at the State University of New York at Buffalo published a study suggesting “that patients have improved clinical outcomes after microfracture of symptomatic patellofemoral chondral lesions at midterm follow-up. Our review also found some evidence to suggest that younger patients may have improved clinical outcomes that are more durable over time compared with older patients. However, we could not draw any definitive conclusions regarding the effect of location, size, or severity of the chondral lesion.”

Older patients may not fare as well. So what do we do with them? Knee cap replacement?

Patellofemoral arthroplasty or “knee cap replacement,” is a surgery that can be performed in isolation if the patella osteoarthritis is the main cause of a patient’s pain. It is usually reserved for older patients for whom microfracture or arthroscopic patella surgery was not or is deemed to not be successful.

Botulinum toxin injections as a salvage therapy

An October 2021 study (29) from leading Israeli universities and New York University NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital and published in the journal Knee surgery & related research examined the imbalance between the vastus medialis oblique (one of the four quadricep muscles) and the vastus lateralis (the largest of the quadriceps muscles). It is this imbalance that can lead to patella malalignment and considerable pain and reduced quality of life. This study tried to determine the effectiveness of botulinum toxin injections in patients, average age 50, treated with a botulinum toxin injection and then physical therapy. What the researchers found that in selected patients a single intervention of botulinum toxin injection to the vastus lateralis muscle combined with physiotherapy is beneficial for the treatment of patients with persistent and difficult to treat Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome.

What this study expressed is a problem of instability and imbalance because one muscle tugged harder on the patella than the other. The same can be true for ligaments.

Solving Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome is recognizing the problem of knee instability

We are going to look at the problem of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome as a problem of knee instability. A problem that can be treated with regenerative medicine injections beyond botulinum toxin injection.

In the research above we mentioned that knee braces or sleeves could provide some temporary relief especially psychologically. Medical university researchers shared their observations on what a knee brace could do for patellofemoral pain symptoms.

Writing in the European journal Gait Posture published by Oxford University, the researchers discovered that the most beneficial aspect of wearing a brace was during walking and that the brace helped coordinate muscle activity around the knee. (30) This theory was tested among 12 women aged 20-30 years with a diagnosis of patellofemoral pain.

You must treat the whole knee to fix the problem of patella pain

A November 2017 study in the journal Radiology and Oncology (31) discussed what radiological findings revealed in 100 patients with patella problems.

Comprehensive Prolotherapy for Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome – treating the whole knee

Research: “. . . patients with chondromalacia patella who received Prolotherapy reported a significant decrease in their levels of pain at rest, normal activity, and exercise, in addition to an improvement of range of motion, decrease in knee stiffness, and reduction in crepitus.”(29)

In this section, we will explain the regenerative injection treatment Prolotherapy

When we examine a patient with patellofemoral pain syndrome, we can see that the patella is usually “tracking laterally.” This means that the knee cap is slightly out of the central groove it normally sits in and has moved to one side. This is reflected on x-ray such as the one below.

We explain to the patient that our goal of treatment is to get the kneecap back into its groove with simple dextrose injections targeting the muscle attachments that connect the muscle to the knee cap (the quadriceps tendon at the patella tendon). We also explain that we want to target the various ligaments in the knee, to strengthen them, and help pull the knee back into correct anatomical alignment.

The treatment is demonstrated and explained in the video above.

In 2014, our staff at Caring Medical published research findings in a paper entitled: Outcomes of Prolotherapy in Chondromalacia Patella Patients: Improvements in Pain Level and Function in the medical journal Clinical Medicine Insights Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disorders. (32)

In this paper, our team evaluated the effectiveness of Prolotherapy in resolving pain, stiffness, and crepitus, and improving physical activity in chondromalacia patients. We examined and treated Sixty-nine knees with Prolotherapy in 61 patients (33 female and 36 male) who were 18–82 years old (average, 47.2 years).

Following Prolotherapy treatments:

Demonstration of the treatment with Ross Hauser, MD

A summary explanation and learning points of this video are presented below:

The treatment begins at 1:50 of the video

Sunrise imaging of the knees before and after Prolotherapy treatments. The alignment in this patient's knees after Prolotherapy is much improved. The patient suffered from chondromalacia patellae and patellofemoral pain syndrome. Prolotherapy helped this patient get back to pain free running.

Sunrise imaging of the knees before and after Prolotherapy treatments. The alignment in this patient’s knees after Prolotherapy is much improved. The patient suffered from chondromalacia patellae and patellofemoral pain syndrome. Prolotherapy helped this patient get back to pain-free running.

Recommendation to a third knee surgery: When the patella pain does not respond to conservative care treatments

In the image below we see an x-ray revealing chondromalacia patella and bone spur in a 66 year-old female patient who was seeking treatment for knee osteoarthritis pain and a grinding sensation under her kneecap. Patient had two previous knee surgeries. She was getting minimal improvement from Prolotherapy treatments, To assess her situation, an x-ray was ordered. The x-ray revealed minimal joint space under her kneecap consistent with chondromalacia patella and the grinding sensation she experienced. Notice also the hook bone spur offer patella. Because of the abnormality of the bone spur, continuing Prolotherapy was not the best treatment option for her and despite two previous surgeries, she needed an orthopedic consult.

When the patella pain does not respond to conservative care treatments

PRP and Prolotherapy

PRP as we perform it is NOT a single injection. It is a comprehensive treatment that addresses problems, weakness, and instability of the whole knee capsule.

Continuing research 2018, The Use of Prolotherapy for Chondromalacia Patella (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

In 2018, our research team published new findings in the Journal of Prolotherapy. (33) Here we found:

Bone Marrow Aspirate or Bone Marrow Stem Cell Therapy.

Stem cell therapy can be an effective treatment for some patients, it can also easily fail as a treatment in some patients. We have two extensive articles on our website that can explain who stem cell therapy can and cannot help and why the treatment may fail. Please see When stem cell therapy works and does not work for your knee pain and Does stem cell therapy for knee meniscus tears and post-meniscectomy work?

An example of why or why not the treatment did not work is typically seen in emails we get.

I was diagnosed with patella femoral pain syndrome and chondromalacia and was recommended by an orthopedic to get Stem Cell injections (from bone marrow). After the injections, my condition worsen. I now have lateral tilting and subluxation of both patellas.   Before I only had pain during weight-bearing activities and now I have chronic discomfort when sitting, standing, and sleeping. Several orthopedists have now recommended hyaluronic acid injections but I am not hesitant to inject anything else into my knees.
In this situation did the stem cells make the pain worse or did the ineffectiveness of the treatment prevent the continued deterioration of the knee joints. In many cases stem cell therapy is tried, it is given as a single cortisone-like injection with the promise that the stem cells injected will rebuild the knee and the patient and doctor wait for the results. While they are waiting, the knee continues to worsen because the treatment was not sufficient to treat the problem.

We have seen good success in selecting patients with knee problems using bone marrow-derived stem cell therapy. We say select because we do not find it necessary to offer this treatment to every patient.

A July 2021 study in the journal Stem Cell Research & Therapy (34) offers support for the use of stem cell therapy for chondromalacia patella and pain in the patellofemoral joint.

“(Various treatments) are conventionally proposed to treat cartilage lesions in the patellofemoral joint, but none have emerged as a gold standard, neither to alleviate symptoms and function nor to prevent osteoarthritis degeneration. Recently, researchers have been focused on cartilage-targeted therapy. Various efforts including cell therapy and tissue emerge for cartilage regeneration exhibit as the promising regime, especially in the application of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs). Intra-articular injections of variously sourced MSC are found safe and beneficial for treating chondromalacia patella with improved clinical parameters, less invasiveness, symptomatic relief, and reduced inflammation. The mechanism of MSC injection remains further clinical investigation and is tremendously promising for chondromalacia patella treatment.”

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