The patella, also called the kneecap, is a small bone present on the front of your knee joint. The underside of the patella is covered by cartilage that allows smooth gliding of the knee with movement. Overuse or misalignment of the patella can cause wear and tear of the cartilage.
Chondromalacia patella is a common condition characterized by symptomatic irritation and softening, weakening, or damage of the cartilage. The condition is most often seen among young athletes and older adults and can be a precursor or early stage of arthritis. It is especially common in women.
There is no explicit reason why the cartilage damage occurs. However, it is associated with improper knee alignment or imbalance in the muscles holding the patella in place. Overuse of the knee in certain sports activities may cause wear and tear of the cartilage. This may cause rubbing or grinding of the kneecap against the femoral trochlea, or groove, instead of it smoothly gliding over the knee joint.
Chondromalacia patella may also be caused due to injuries such as fractures or dislocations, or may develop as a part of your ageing process.
Chondromalacia patella is the most common cause of knee pain. Called patellofemoral pain, it is characterized by the following:
Other symptoms may include:
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination by applying pressure on different areas of your knee and moving your leg in different positions. You may be asked to undergo imaging tests including an X-ray, CT scan and MRI scan to obtain detailed images of the bones and soft tissues of the knee.
The treatment of chondromalacia patella initially involves simple conservative procedures. You may be asked to rest your knee and avoid any activity that may strain the knee joint. Your doctor may prescribe medications including anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Physiotherapy may help you to improve the muscle strength and balance, decrease stress on your knee and aid in correcting the malisalignment. Wearing support braces and taping around the knee may help you protect your joint, reduce pain and improve alignment. Application of ice on the knee may be recommended after exercise.
In a majority of cases, non-surgical treatment is successful in improving symptoms and knee function. When non-surgical treatment does not relieve pain, your doctor may recommend surgical treatment. Surgery may involve:
Your doctor will examine your condition and provide you with best treatment option.