Diagnosis and treatment of patients with patellofemoral pain

Am J Sports Med. May-Jun 2002;30(3):447-56. doi: 10.1177/03635465020300032501.


The patient-athlete with patellofemoral pain requires precise physical examination based on a thorough history. The nature of injury and specific physical findings, including detailed examination of the retinacular structure around the patella, will most accurately pinpoint the specific source of anterior knee pain or instability. Radiographs should include a standard 30 degrees to 45 degrees axial view of the patellae and a precise lateral radiograph. Nonoperative treatment is effective in most patients. Prone quadriceps muscle stretches, balanced strengthening, proprioceptive training, hip external rotator strengthening, patellar taping, orthotic devices, and effective bracing will help most patients avoid surgery. When surgery becomes necessary, indications must be specific. Lateral release is appropriate for patella tilt (abnormal rotation). Painful scar or retinaculum, neuromas, and pathologic plicae may require resection. Proximal patellar realignment may be accomplished using arthroscopic or a combined arthroscopic/mini-open approach. Symptomatic articular lesions and more profound malalignments may require medial or anteromedial tibial tubercle transfer. Clinicians should be particularly alert for symptoms of medial subluxation in postoperative patients and should use the provocative medial subluxation test followed by lateral displacement patellar bracing to confirm a diagnosis of medial patellar subluxation. This problem may be corrected in most patients using a lateral patellar tenodesis. Current thinking emphasizes precise diagnosis, rehabilitation involving the entire kinetic chain, restoration of patella homeostasis, minimal surgical intervention, and precise indications for more definitive corrective surgery.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries / complications
  • Athletic Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Athletic Injuries / therapy*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Femur*
  • Humans
  • Knee Injuries / complications
  • Knee Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Knee Injuries / therapy*
  • Orthopedic Procedures / methods
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain Management
  • Patella*
  • Physical Examination / methods
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / methods