Approach to the Active Patient with Chronic Anterior Knee Pain

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Alfred Atanda Jr, MD; Devin Ruiz, BSc; Christopher C. Dodson, MD; Robert W. Frederick, MD

Table of Contents

Physician and Sportsmedicine:

Volume 40 No. 1

Category:

Clinical Focus

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DOI: 10.3810/psm.2012.02.1950
Abstract: The diagnosis and management of chronic anterior knee pain in the active individual can be frustrating for both the patient and physician. Pain may be a result of a single traumatic event or, more commonly, repetitive overuse. “Anterior knee pain,” “patellofemoral pain syndrome,” and “chondromalacia” are terms that are often used interchangeably to describe multiple conditions that occur in the same anatomic region but that can have significantly different etiologies. Potential pain sources include connective or soft tissue irritation, intra-articular cartilage damage, mechanical irritation, nerve-mediated abnormalities, systemic conditions, or psychosocial issues. Patients with anterior knee pain often report pain during weightbearing activities that involve significant knee flexion, such as squatting, running, jumping, and walking up stairs. A detailed history and thorough physical examination can improve the differential diagnosis. Plain radiographs (anteroposterior, anteroposterior flexion, lateral, and axial views) can be ordered in severe or recalcitrant cases. Treatment is typically nonoperative and includes activity modification, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, supervised physical therapy, orthotics, and footwear adjustment. Patients should be informed that it may take several months for symptoms to resolve. It is important for patients to be aware of and avoid aggravating activities that can cause symptom recurrence. Patients who are unresponsive to conservative treatment, or those who have an underlying systemic condition, should be referred to an orthopedic surgeon or an appropriate medical specialist.

Keywords: patellofemoral pain syndrome; physical therapy; differential diagnosis