In the United States, more than 11 million people each year visit a doctor for knee pain that limits their mobility in some way. Determining the cause of your knee pain is the first step in planning the best course of treatment.
Anterior (front) knee pain is most commonly referred to as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (AFPS). Often AFPS begins gradually and worsens over time. The pain is caused when the knee fails to move properly as the knee bends or straightens. Determining the cause of your knee pain is important in the proper treatment to prevent further injury or damage.
Any number of situations can cause the appearance of anterior knee pain. Most common are injuries, overuse, excess weight, or changes occurring within the knee joint or surrounding ligaments and cartilage.
Symptoms of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
Symptoms of patellofemoral pain syndrome include pain in the front of the knee that is worsened by bending, jumping or climbing stairs. Many individuals report pain is worst descending stairs. With patellofemoral pain syndrome you may experience your knee buckling or feeling like it is giving way beneath you.
Simply ignoring or tolerating the knee pain as a matter of aging or limited physical condition can lead to serious damage to the knee and surrounding structures. Early diagnosis and discovering the underlying cause of your knee pain can bring a big change in your ability to remain mobile and pain free in the years ahead.
Diagnosing Knee Pain
To best diagnose the underlying cause of your knee pain your doctor will take a history of your overall health conditions and conduct a physical exam including your weight and overall physical status. He will also ask for information to determine the severity of the pain, activities that make it worst and how long you have been having problems.
Tests may include x-rays or imaging to evaluate the inner structures of the knee and surrounding structures.
Treatment for PFPS and Other Knee Pain
Avoiding activities that worsen your knee pain sounds obvious but is not always possible in day to day activities. However being aware of the situations that increase the stress on your knees is crucial in preventing long term damage.
Avoid sitting or kneeling in a bent-knee position for long periods of time. Change position frequently and when kneeling cannot be avoided use a padded cushion to kneel on whenever possible.
Exercise can either help or aggravate knee pain. Done properly under the supervision of a physical therapist or sports doctor, exercises to strengthen the muscles surrounding the knee can treat knee pain caused by insufficient support. However it is best to avoid extreme bent knee type exercises such as squats, knee extensions or deep knee bends unless directed and supervised by professional with knowledge of knee pain and related injuries.
Treatment may include the use of over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen to decrease swelling, stiffness or pain. Ice and rest during acute episodes of swelling may offer pain relief.
Ask your doctor or physical therapist if taping or a brace will help stabilize your knee while treatment is underway. There are several types of braces available and your health care provider should be able to recommend what is best for your level of activity.
Surgery is another treatment option if the ligaments or interior structure of the knee has undergone changes that are causing the knee pain. Generally other treatment options are tried first and are effective in most cases but surgery has restored mobility to many individuals with severe cases of knee pain or injuries.
As always, discuss any health concerns with your physician or health care team before making changes in your exercise or lifestyle choices.
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome – Topic Overview, Healthwise
Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: A Review and Guidelines for Treatment, Mark S. Juhn, D.O., University of Washington School of Medicine, American Family Physician , Nov 1, 1999.