Chondromalacia Patella
(Patellofemoral Syndrome)

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Chondromalacia patella facts

  • Chondromalacia patella is the most common cause of chronic knee pain.
  • Chondromalacia patella has also been called patellofemoral syndrome.
  • The pain of chondromalacia patella is aggravated by activity or prolonged sitting with bent knees.
  • Abnormal "tracking" allows the kneecap (patella) to grate over the lower end of the thighbone (femur), causing chronic inflammation and pain.
  • Treatment involves improving the alignment of the patella during contraction of the thigh muscle.

What is the chondromalacia patella?

Chondromalacia patella is abnormal softening of the cartilage of the underside the kneecap (patella). It is a cause of pain in the front of the knee (anterior knee pain). Chondromalacia patella is one of the most common causes of chronic knee pain. Chondromalacia patella results from degeneration of cartilage due to poor alignment of the kneecap (patella) as it slides over the lower end of the thighbone (femur). This process is sometimes referred to as patellofemoral syndrome.

What causes chondromalacia patella?

The patella (kneecap) is normally pulled over the end of the femur in a straight line by the quadriceps (thigh) muscle. Patients with chondromalacia patella frequently have abnormal patellar "tracking" toward the lateral (outer) side of the femur. This slightly off-kilter pathway allows the undersurface of the patella to grate along the femur, causing chronic inflammation and pain. Certain individuals are predisposed to develop chondromalacia patella: females, knock-kneed or flat-footed runners, or those with an unusually shaped patella undersurface.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/27/2012

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Chondromalacia is a common cause of chronic knee pain.

Your Knee Pain: Is It Chondromalacia?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD

Chondromalacia, technically termed chondromalacia patellae, is the most common cause of chronic knee pain. The condition develops due to softening of the cartilage beneath the knee cap (the patella), resulting in small areas of breakdown and pain around the knee. Instead of gliding smoothly over the knee, the knee cap rubs against the thigh bone (the femur) when the knee moves. The changes can range from mild to complete erosion of the cartilage. This process is sometimes referred to as the patellofemoral syndrome.

Chondromalacia commonly occurs in females. Girls in their teensare at elevated risk because the cartilage of the knee is subjected to excessive and uneven pressure due to the structural changes that accompany rapid growth. Chondromalacia may also occur in adults over age 40 as part of the wear-and-tear process that eventually leads to osteoarthritisof the knee joint. Other factors that may precipitate chondromalacia include trauma, overuse, or abnormal forces on the knee joint. It can develop in skiers, runners, cyclists, and soccer players, especially if someone is knock-kneed or flat-footed.

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