Health Library
Patellafemoral Dysfunction (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

What is Patellafemoral Dysfunction or Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome?

Patella-femoral image.

Patellafemoral dysfunction is pain in the front of your knee when your kneecap (patella) does not glide how it should at the end of your thigh bone (femur).

How Do I Know I May Have It?

Patellafemoral dysfunction is often seen in teens and is more common in females. You might have this if you have pain in the front or back of your knees. It is often worse with:

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

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your doctor will do an exam to see if you have patellafemoral dysfunction. It is vital to make sure there are no other problems causing the pain.

What Causes Patellafemoral Dysfunction?

Patellafemoral dysfunction in children occurs for these reasons:

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

How Do I Treat Patellafemoral Dysfunction?

Patellafemoral dysfunction is most often treated with:

  • Exercises (physical therapy) to improve the glide of the kneecap:
    • Strengthen muscles in front of the thigh, hips and core
    • Stretch muscles in the back of the thigh
    • Correct the imbalance between the muscles in the front of the thighs compared to the muscles in the back of the thigh
  • Ice
  • Medicine or knee braces are sometimes needed
  • Shoe inserts can help correct flat feet and reduce knee pain

What Is the Long-Term Outcome?

If this is not treated, patellafemoral dysfunction can make anterior knee pain worse. It can also lead to problems during sports. Weak hip and core strength or problems with jumping form or running form can lead to other knee problems. It is important to correct the problems causing patellofemoral dysfunction to avoid other knee injuries.

Can Patellafemoral Dysfunction Be Prevented?

You can prevent patella-femoral dysfunction with:

  • Proper running and jumping methods
  • Strong core muscles (belly and back muscles)
  • Flat feet

Last Updated 11/2021

Reviewed By Michael Neumann, Athletic Trainer

Learn more about the Sports Medicine team of specialists.

The Division of Sports Medicine is home to specialists with a wide variety of backgrounds and areas of focus who are prepared to care for your child's unique needs. 

Contact us.