Aches and pains in the knee joint are common but easily dismissed. Although arthritis is well known, a degenerative knee condition called chondromalacia can also cause knee pain. Chondromalacia has many of the same symptoms as arthritis but is the result of abnormal softening and degeneration of cartilage on the underside of the kneecap.
It begins innocently with a twinge or mild pain after prolonged activity, but it worsens over time and the frequency increases. It can affect adolescents or younger age groups. Women are more likely to develop the condition because of a wider pelvis, which impacts the biomechanics of the knee joint.
This condition is associated with a wide variety of sports like soccer, gymnastics, rowing, cycling, swimming and skateboarding. Individuals with jobs that require squatting, lifting, driving and sitting for extended periods of time are also at risk of developing this condition.
The exact cause of chondromalacia is unknown, but it has been associated with repetitive motion injuries from work or sports and poor muscle condition and control in the hip and knee. Injury or trauma to the kneecap that includes fractures or dislocation is also a known case. If left untreated, chondromalacia can interfere with sitting, standing, walking and driving.
When the kneecap doesn’t move and track correctly, bones grate against one another, causing escalating pain with daily motions such as:
• Sitting with knees bent for extended periods
• Squatting or kneeling
• Walking up and down stairs
Without treatment, patients lose strength and stability, causing the knee to buckle. Pain is felt on the front/inner side of the knee. The body ‘compensates’ by introducing incorrect movement patterns to prevent further damage to the knee joint. A gait assessment is critical in identifying any faulty movement patterns. Cold therapy is beneficial for reducing pain and inflammation, while therapeutic massage is effective for pain relief and improving circulation. The physical therapist may employ low-resistance and low-impact conditioning, slow progression of functional exercises to regain the normal stress in the knee joint, and other exercises which provide stability and increase functionality.
In some instances, surgery may be required, and a physical therapy program is essential for rehabilitation. We conduct a detailed evaluation and design a physical therapy program to reduce pain and inflammation and improve function. Treatment and management plans will depend on the level of deterioration, but will focus on restoring optimum strength, motion and stability in the knee joint.
Patients with chondromalacia will be instructed to avoid certain activities that will aggravate the condition and activity-specific footwear. While there’s no definitive way to predict who will develop chondromalacia, there are multiple physical therapy options available to ease pain, correct gait problems and maintain mobility. If you or someone you know has knee pain, call us today. We’ll do everything we can to help you get back on your feet.
Dan Skulavik is the physical therapist at Advanced Physical Therapy in the Food Lion Shopping Center.