Patella-Femoral Dysfunction or Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patella-femoral image.

Patella-femoral dysfunction is pain in the front of your knee where your kneecap (patella) glides abnormally at the end of your thigh bone (femur).

Patella-femoral dysfunction is usually seen in teenagers and is more common in females.  You might have patella-femoral dysfunction if you have pain in the front or back of your knees.  It is usually worse with:

  • Running and jumping sports
  • Sitting for a long time
  • Going up stairs

Your doctor can tell if you have patella-femoral dysfunction by doing an exam.  It is important to make sure there are no other problems causing the pain.

Patella-femoral dysfunction in children occurs for several reasons: 

  • Weak muscle in the upper thigh 
  • Weak hips
  • Weak core muscles (stomach and back muscles) 
  • Flat feet

Patella-femoral dysfunction is typically treated with:

  • Exercises (physical therapy) to help the kneecap glide easier:
    • Strengthening muscles in front of the thigh
    • Stretching muscles in the back of the thigh
    • Correcting any imbalance between the muscles in the front of the thighs compared to the muscles in the back of the thigh
  • Ice
  • Medicines or knee braces are sometimes needed
  • Shoe inserts can help correct flat feet and reduce knee pain

If left untreated, patella-femoral dysfunction can lead to worsening of anterior knee pain and decreased performance during sports.  If the underlying weak hip strength, jumping form and running form are not addressed, it can lead to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. However, patella-femoral dysfunction does not cause ACL tears.

You can prevent patella-femoral dysfunction with:

  • Proper running and jumping techniques
  • Strong core muscles
  • Correcting flat feet

Last Updated 05/2012