How Are Patellofemoral Disorders Diagnosed?

The knee is the body's most complex joint with a crucial role in mobility, formed by the thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella), which are held together by strong ligaments and tendons. The kneecap connects to the muscle in front of the femur via the quadriceps tendon and the tibia via the patellar tendon.

The kneecap moves within a groove located in the femur known as the trochlea, with articular cartilage and synovium allowing the bones to move against each other without friction. Due to the knee's frequent use, the soft tissues and bones around the patella can gradually be affected, leading to patellofemoral disorders.  

Patellofemoral disorders most commonly result from strenuous physical activities and sports that repeatedly stress the knee, like climbing, squatting, or jogging. An increase in the frequency and intensity of such activities can also affect the kneecap. Additionally, a misaligned patella can lead to increased pressure on the trochlear groove, leading to the irritation of soft tissues or subluxations and dislocations.

The typical symptoms of patellofemoral disorders include:

  • Pain surrounding the patella
  • Lasting dull and aching pain in the joint
  • Pain when running, going up/down the stairs, sitting, or squatting
  • Pain when flexing the knee completely
  • Unusual noise from the kneecap when moving
  • Reduced kneecap mobility
  • Swelling

Since patellofemoral disorders share similar symptoms with other lesions to nearby structures, a thorough diagnosis is required to rule out other injuries. Patellofemoral disorders are often mistaken for ACL injuries, and locking of the knee may be more indicative of meniscal issues.

The diagnostic process for patellofemoral disorders includes reviewing the patient's history of knee injuries and a physical examination of the affected area, usually through palpation. If internal damage is more extensive, X-ray, CT scans, and MRI imaging may be required to determine the extent of the damage to bones and tissues.