If you are a runner, walker, or stair-climber and you have a dull ache in the front of your knee, you may have a syndrome known as chondromalacia patella or patellofemoral pain. This pain is often felt while walking up or down stairs, squatting, or kneeling. Oddly, it can disappear while doing the running, walking, or biking that brought it about in the first place.
What causes it
According to the Cleveland Clinic, chondromalacia patella (knee pain) is the softening and breakdown of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap (patella). It can also be caused by inflammation on the underside of the kneecap. The kneecap is a round, flat bone that is suspended between two tendons. When your knees bend or extend, the patella is pulled up or down over the knee. With overuse or repetitive movements, the cartilage starts to have bouts of inflammation, followed by healing and then scarring. The kneecap then has more friction to deal with, which can lead to pain.
How to treat it
The most common way to treat symptoms of chondromalacia patella is to rest the knee. Other ways to treat the pain according to the Cleveland Clinic include icing the area, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, applying topical pain medication or taking prescription pain relievers. Wearing shoe gel insoles may also reduce the pain. Physical therapy can also reduce the pain by strengthening the muscles around the knee, making it more stable.
How to prevent it
Stabilizing your knees through strengthening exercises, especially those exercises that strengthen the quadriceps, can be helpful. Alternating repetitive movement exercises with those that put less stress on the knees can also be wise. For example, if you run five miles a day, it may be helpful to alternate running with water aerobics or yoga. Eating foods that reduce inflammation, such as dark fruits and pineapple, may also make a difference.
Where to get more information
Because there are many different reasons for knee pain, it is important that you do not try to make a diagnosis by yourself. If you are experiencing significant knee pain, you should see your primary care provider as soon as possible. Other, more serious causes of knee pain will need to be ruled out, such as arthritis, gout, or a sprain. Whatever the cause of your pain, your doctor will be able to create a care plan that is specific to your needs.
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Updated by: Tracy Davenport
Jeffrey Heit is an internist in Burlington, Massachusetts and is affiliated with Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Obesity.