Patellofemoral Joint Syndromes Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jan 05, 2021
  • Author: Jane T Servi, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
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The presenting symptom in patients with patellofemoral joint syndrome is knee pain.

  • The quality of the knee pain varies from dull and achy to sharp and shooting; occasionally, there is a burning sensation.

  • The location of the pain may also vary. The pain may be described as anterior knee pain, retropatellar knee pain, peripatellar knee pain, global knee pain, posterior knee pain, joint line pain, or a combination of these.

  • Patients may complain of painful or painless retropatellar crepitation. Symptoms may also include a painful catching sensation and a painful giving way of the knee.

  • The pain may have an obvious etiology. Pain is often related to overuse or a change in exercise intensity.

    • Some activities that frequently trigger symptomatology are stair climbing, uphill running, hiking, deep knee bends, and squatting. The pain is often not noted until completion of the activity. The patient may also complain of pain with prolonged sitting in which the knees are in flexion.

    • Pain may be related to trauma, most frequently from falls onto the anterior knee or from the impact of the knees on the dashboard in motor vehicle accidents. Most commonly though, an inciting event cannot be determined.

    • A family history of anterior knee pain may be positive.

    • Children going through growth spurts may experience painful knees, which occurs as the bone grows and stimulates musculotendinous growth through traction. This results in a relative period of inflexibility, which translates to abnormal vector forces placed at the patella and patellar maltracking.

Related Medscape Reference topics:

Soft Tissue Knee Injury

Knee Osteochondritis Dissecans

Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Overuse Injury



See the list below:

  • The clinician should make a general observation for the presence of any predisposing factors, which may include the following:

    • Gait (walking and running) – Inversion/eversion of the hindfoot

    • Femoral anteversion or tibial torsion

    • Genu varus, genu valgus, or genu recurvatum

    • Foot with pes planus or pronation

  • Examination of the tibiofemoral joint (the anterior knee, not the joint lines) should include the following:

    • Assess range of motion (ROM). Most often the ROM is within normal limits; genu recurvatum may be present.

    • Look for the presence of any effusion, which is often absent.

    • Assess for ligamentous laxity. No abnormal laxity should be noted.

    • Assess for joint line tenderness, which is more prone to be present anteriorly if it is elicited.

    • Perform the McMurray maneuver, in which the examiner concurrently extends and rotates the patient's affected lower limb. When the patient complains of pain with this maneuver, the pain is usually localized to the anterior knee.

  • Examination of the patellofemoral joint

    • Observe the position of the patella with the knee in 90° of flexion. Patella alta, patella baja, or patellar lateralization may be present.

    • Observe patellar tracking in terminal extension (30-0°). A J-curve may be present.

    • Assess the patellar glide. A tight lateral retinaculum can decrease the medial glide. A medial glide of less than 5 mm (1 quadrant) can indicate a tight retinaculum. If a positive apprehension sign (fear of the patella popping out of position) is elicited with assessment of the patellar glide, suspect a patella subluxation or dislocation.

    • Palpate for pain. Tenderness is often found on the patellar facets, the trochlea, and the peripatellar soft tissue. Tenderness to palpation at the superior or inferior poles of the patella usually indicates another pathology.

    • Assess the patella compression test. Compress and push the affected patella distally. Pain is a positive test associated with anterior knee pain. An active test, in which the patient contracts the quadriceps tendon against a compressed patella, has a high false-positive rate.

    • Assess the Q-angle. The Q-angle is the angle formed by a line created from the ASIS to the mid patella intersecting with a line created from the mid patella to the tibial tubercle with the knee in full extension. The average Q-angle for males is 14°, and the average for females is 17°. An increase in this angle can indicate abnormal patellar tracking.

  • Muscle force vectors may be unequal and cause patellar maltracking.

    • Assess hamstring flexibility. Tight hamstrings antagonize the quadriceps function and increase patellofemoral joint loading. Iliotibial band and rectus femoris flexibility should likewise be assessed.

    • In a study of 12 patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome, Hudson and Darthuy noted that these patients had a tighter iliotibial band. [12] However, it was unclear whether patellofemoral pain syndrome is caused by or results in a tighter iliotibial band.

    • Assess the muscle bulk of the VMO. The VMO controls medial movement of the patella.

Related Medscape Reference topics:

Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Osteochondritis Dissecans

Patellar Injury and Dislocation

Pes Planus



See the list below:

  • Genetics may predispose a person to develop patellofemoral joint syndrome. Genetic factors that are commonly associated with this condition include the following:

    • Hyperlaxity of the knee (genu recurvatum) or patellofemoral joint

    • Genu varus or genu valgus

    • Femoral anteversion or tibial torsion

    • Wide pelvic girdle

    • Pes planus or pronation of the foot

    • Muscle tightness, which itself may have a genetic component

    • Abnormal concentration of forces over a smaller articular surface of the patellofemoral joint.

  • This condition may either be caused or aggravated by overuse or a change in activity level. Repetitive knee flexion, especially on a weighted joint (eg, stair climbing, hiking, uphill running, kneeling, squatting, prolonged sitting with knee flexion) can cause symptomatology.

  • Trauma can be the underlying cause.

  • A forceful compression of the patellofemoral joint (eg, a fall onto the anterior knees, impact of the knees on a dashboard during a motor vehicle accident) may precipitate this condition.

    • Patellofemoral syndrome may occur after a patella subluxation or dislocation.

    • Patients may develop this condition after having ACL reconstruction with a bone-patellar tendon-bone technique. One year postoperatively, one third of these patients may have patellofemoral symptoms secondary to a weak quadriceps from patellar irritability or flexion contracture.

  • Osgood-Schlatter disease may be a predisposing factor to the development of patellofemoral pain later in life.

    • These patients continue to have the predisposing factors, such as muscle imbalance, that caused the Osgood-Schlatter disease.

    • Assess muscle strength, particularly VMO strength. Weakness is often associated with a decrease in muscle bulk. VMO weakness causes poor patellar tracking. The VMO displaces the patella medially during knee extension, thus guiding it through the trochlear groove during quadriceps contraction.

Related Medscape Reference topics:

Soft Tissue Knee Injury

Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Overuse Injury

Patellar Injury and Dislocation

Pes Planus