Skip to Content

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee)

Contact UPMC Sports Medicine

To schedule an appointment or ask a question, call 1-855-937-7678 or contact us online.

What Is Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee)?

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome or anterior knee pain syndrome is a term that refers to pain in the front of the knee and around the patella, or kneecap. It is sometimes called "jumper's knee" or "runner's knee" because it is common in athletes.

Causes of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome occurs when your patella (kneecap) cartilage becomes overloaded due to overuse, often caused by high-impact activities, or as a result of poor alignment.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Risk Factors

You are more likely to develop patellofermoral pain syndrome if you play high-impact sports such as football, basketball, soccer, and tennis, or if you are a runner.

These activities all have the potential to aggravate the patella cartilage. In addition, running on uneven surfaces, like hills or trails, or playing on multiple surfaces (such as hard and clay courts in tennis) also may increase the likelihood of patellofemoral pain.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee) Symptoms and Diagnosis

The most common symptom of patellofemoral pain syndrome is a dull ache underneath your kneecap while walking down stairs, squatting, or getting up after sitting for long periods of time. In addition, your knee may catch when bending, and you may experience a painful grating or creaking sensation.

Diagnosing Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Your doctor will diagnose the injury by examining your knee area. Because the kneecap is easily accessible, he or she can quickly test for patellofemoral pain and tenderness by moving your kneecap and checking how well it moves as you flex and extend your leg.

After this brief exam, your doctor will be able to tell whether your discomfort is due to patellofemoral pain syndrome or another knee problem. Your doctor may request X-rays and/or an MRI for a closer look at your knee.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee) Treatment

The best way to treat patellofemoral pain syndrome is to rest and avoid activities that cause pain. Ice and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can be used to treat any swelling or pain that may occur.

Targeted physical therapy and strengthening exercises will also facilitate recovery. Knee braces or sleeves also can be used to provide the knee with more support and help prevent the knee from buckling. Bracing the knee stabilizes the kneecap and can help prevent symptoms from worsening.

If conservative treatments of your runner's knee are not effective and your symptoms continue to worsen, surgery may be needed to correct malalignment of the patella.

Preventive Measures

It may not be possible to totally prevent patellofemoral pain syndrome; however, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and avoid making the condition worse.

These measures include:

  • A proper warm up before exercising, as well as stretching pre- and post-activity
  • Varying the types of activities that you participate in, such as alternating between running and swimming
  • Taking care of injuries immediately, which includes getting adequate first aid as well as resting the injured area until it is healed before resuming an activity