Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

The kneecap or patella is a small, triangular bone in the front of your knee that moves with the knee as it flexes. It glides up and down along a track at the end of the thighbone (femur) and gives the front thigh muscles (quadriceps) extra leverage for straightening the leg. The patella also protects the other bones in the knee against collisions and falls.

Patellofemoral pain syndrome occurs when the patella cartilage becomes overloaded due to overuse (often caused by high-impact activities) or as a result of poor alignment. High-impact sports — such as football, basketball, soccer, tennis and running — can aggravate existing abnormal kneecap alignment. In addition, running on uneven surfaces, like hills or trails, or playing on multiple surfaces (such as going from a grass to a hard court in tennis) also may increase the likelihood of patellofemoral pain.

Our Approach to Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

UCSF is committed to helping patients with patellofemoral pain syndrome return to the activities they love, whether that means daily walks or playing professional sports. Our team includes orthopedic surgeons, primary care physicians trained in sports medicine, knee specialists, physical therapists and athletic trainers. We work together to tailor a treatment plan to each patient's needs and goals.

This type of knee pain usually responds to a combination of rest, anti-inflammatory medication, supportive braces and physical therapy. We offer the full range of physical rehabilitation treatments, including exercise regimens, functional activities and neuromuscular reeducation. Our specialists guide each patient through a personalized program designed to facilitate healing, recover function and improve physical performance. Surgery is rarely needed, but if pain persists, we may recommend it.

Awards & recognition

  • usnews-neurology

    Best hospital in Northern California

  • usnews-orthopedics

    One of the nation’s best in orthopedics

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.