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Chondromalacia patella

The cartilage under your kneecap is a natural shock absorber. Overuse, injury or other factors may lead to a condition known as chondromalacia patella (kon-droh-muh-LAY-shuh puh-TEL-uh) — a general term indicating damage to the cartilage under your kneecap. A more accurate term for chondromalacia patella is patellofemoral (puh-tel-o-FEM-uh-rul) pain syndrome.

The most common symptom is knee pain that increases when you walk up or down stairs. Simple treatments — such as rest and ice — often help, but sometimes physical therapy or even surgery is needed to ease patellofemoral pain.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Patellofemoral pain syndrome usually causes a dull, aching pain in the front of your knee. This pain can be aggravated when you:

  • Walk up or down stairs
  • Kneel or squat
  • Sit with a bent knee for long periods of time

When to see your doctor

If the knee pain doesn't improve within a few days, consult your doctor.

Doctors aren't certain what actually causes patellofemoral pain syndrome, but it's been associated with:

  • Overuse. Repetitive stress on your knee joint — such as that sustained during running or jumping sports — may result in patellofemoral pain.
  • Poor control of your muscles. Patellofemoral pain can occur when the muscles around your hip and knee don't function well to maintain proper tracking of your kneecap.
  • Injury. Trauma to the kneecap, such as a dislocation or fracture, has been linked to patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Factors that may increase your risk include:

  • Age. Patellofemoral pain syndrome typically affects adolescents and young adults. Knee problems in older populations are more commonly caused by arthritis.
  • Sex. Women are twice as likely as men are to develop patellofemoral pain. This may be because a woman's wider pelvis increases the angle at which the bones in the knee joint meet.
  • Certain sports. Participation in running and jumping sports can put extra stress on your knees, especially if you've recently increased your training level.

Patellofemoral pain can lead to difficulty with routine activities, such as squatting and climbing stairs.

Sometimes knee pain just happens. But certain steps may help prevent the pain.

  • Maintain strength. Strong quadriceps and hip abductor muscles help keep the knee balanced during activity.
  • Think alignment and technique. Ask your doctor or physical therapist about flexibility and strength exercises to optimize your technique for jumping, running and pivoting — and to help the patella track properly in its groove. Especially important is exercise for your outer hip muscles to prevent your knee from caving inward when you squat, land from a jump or step down from a step.
  • Lose excess pounds. If you're overweight, losing the extra weight relieves stress on your knees.
  • Warm up. Before running or any other exercise, warm up with five minutes or so of light activity.
  • Stretch. Promote flexibility with gentle stretching exercises.
  • Increase intensity gradually. Avoid sudden changes in the intensity of your workouts.
  • Practice shoe smarts. Make sure your shoes fit well and provide good shock absorption. If you have flat feet, consider shoe inserts.
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