A systematic review of physical interventions for patellofemoral pain syndrome

Clin J Sport Med. 2001 Apr;11(2):103-10. doi: 10.1097/00042752-200104000-00007.


Objective: Physical interventions (nonpharmacological and nonsurgical) are the mainstay of treatment for patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). Physiotherapy is the most common of all physical interventions and includes specific vastus medialis obliquus or general quadriceps strengthening and/or realignment procedures (tape, brace, stretching). These treatments appear to be based on sound theoretical rationale and have attained widespread acceptance, but evidence for the efficacy of these interventions is not well established. This review will present the available evidence for physical interventions for PFPS.

Data sources: Computerized bibliographic databases (MEDLINE, Current Contents, CINAHL) were searched, including the keywords "patellofemoral," "patella," and "anterior knee pain," combined with "treatment," "rehabilitation," and limited to clinical trials through October 2000.

Study selection: The critical eligibility criteria used for inclusion were that the study be a controlled trial, that outcome assessments were adequately described, and that the treatment was a nonpharmacological, nonsurgical physical intervention.

Results: Of the 89 potentially relevant titles, 16 studies were reviewed and none of these fulfilled all of the requirements for a randomized, controlled trial. Physiotherapy interventions were evaluated in eight trials, and the remaining eight trials examined different physical interventions. Significant reductions in PFPS symptoms were found with a corrective foot orthosis and a progressive resistance brace, but there is no evidence to support the use of patellofemoral orthoses, acupuncture, low-level laser, chiropractic patellar mobilization, or patellar taping. Overall the physiotherapy interventions had significant beneficial effects but these interventions were not compared with a placebo control. There is inconclusive evidence to support the superiority of one physiotherapy intervention compared with others.

Conclusions: The evidence to support the use of physical interventions in the management of PFPS is limited. There appears to be a consistent improvement in short-term pain and function due to physiotherapy treatment, but comparison with a placebo group is required to determine efficacy, and further trials are warranted for the other interventions.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arthralgia / physiopathology*
  • Arthralgia / rehabilitation*
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Femur / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Knee Joint / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patella / physiopathology
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Recovery of Function
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight-Bearing