Patellofemoral pain syndrome: a review of current issues

Sports Med. 1999 Oct;28(4):245-62. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199928040-00003.


There is no clear consensus in the literature concerning the terminology, aetiology and treatment for pain in the anterior part of the knee. The term 'anterior knee pain' is suggested to encompass all pain-related problems. By excluding anterior knee pain due to intra-articular pathology, peripatellar tendinitis or bursitis, plica syndromes, Sinding Larsen's disease, Osgood Schlatter's disease, neuromas and other rarely occurring pathologies, it is suggested that remaining patients with a clinical presentation of anterior knee pain could be diagnosed with patello-femoral pain syndrome (PFPS). Three major contributing factors of PFPS are discussed: (i) malalignment of the lower extremity and/or the patella; (ii) muscular imbalance of the lower extremity; and (iii) overactivity. The significance of lower extremity alignment factors and pathological limits needs further investigation. It is possible that the definitions used for malalignment should be re-evaluated, as the scientific support is very weak for determining when alignment is normal and when there is malalignment. Consequently, pathological limits must be clarified, along with evaluation of risk factors for acquiring PFPS. Muscle tightness and muscular imbalance of the lower extremity muscles with decreased strength due to hypotrophy or inhibition have been suggested, but remain unclear as potential causes of PFPS. Decreased knee extensor strength is a common finding in patients with PFPS. Various patterns of weaknesses have been reported, with selective weakness in eccentric muscle strength, within the quadriceps muscle and in terminal knee extension. The significance of muscle function in a closed versus open kinetic chain has been discussed, but is far from well investigated. It is clear that further studies are necessary in order to establish the significance of various strength deficits and muscular imbalances, and to clarify whether a specific disturbance in muscular activation is a cause or an effect (or both) of PFPS. The most common symptoms in patients with PFPS are pain during and after physical activity, during bodyweight loading of the lower extremities in walking up/down stairs and squatting, and in sitting with the knees flexed. However, the source of patellofemoral pain in patients with PFPS cannot be sufficiently explained. There are several types of clinical manifestation of pain, and therefore a differentiated documentation of the patient's pain symptoms is necessary. The connection between strength, pain and inhibition, as well as between personality and pain, needs further investigation. Many different treatment protocols are described in the literature and recent studies advocate a comprehensive treatment approach allowing for an individual and specifically designed treatment. Surgical treatment is rarely indicated. It is strongly suggested that, when presenting studies on PFPS, a detailed description should be provided of the diagnosis, inclusion and exclusion criteria of the patients should be specified along with a detailed methodology, and the conclusions drawn should be compared with those of other studies in the published literature. As this is not the case in most studies on PFPS found in the literature, it is only possible to make general comparisons. In order to further develop treatment models for PFPS we advocate prospective, randomised, controlled, long term studies using validated outcome measures. However, there is a strong need for basic research on the nature and aetiology of PFPS in order to better understand this mysterious syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthralgia / diagnosis*
  • Arthralgia / physiopathology*
  • Arthralgia / therapy*
  • Female
  • Femur / pathology
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / pathology
  • Knee Joint / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Patella / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Syndrome