Patellar pain is common in both athletic and nonathletic individuals. Among athletes, men tend to present with more patellofemoral injuries, including traumatic dislocations, than women. In the nonathletic population, women present more commonly with patellar disorders.
Anatomic morphology of patellar insertion into the intercondylar notch.
Muscles influencing patellar biomechanics.
Patellofemoral problems are mainly diagnosed by obtaining a thorough history and performing a physical examination. Imaging studies help confirm the diagnosis. Plain radiography is not as sensitive as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), but it is the least expensive and most readily available modality.
Patellofemoral syndromes are usually the result of biomechanical imbalances of the kinetic chain, with each individual having an optimal joint-loading limit that is dependent on his or her unique skeletal and muscular anatomy, combined with his or her unique neuromuscular patterning. As this limit is surpassed, the patient is at risk for either acute injury, such as patella dislocation, or chronic injury, such as patellofemoral pain syndrome. Therefore, the goal of a rehabilitative treatment program must be to guide the patient toward performing functional activities without surpassing his or her optimal joint-loading limit. Therapy techniques need to be designed around this principle.
In general, surgery is more effective in preventing recurrences of dislocation because skeletal and muscular components of the patellofemoral joint and extensor mechanism are realigned; however, surgery also has risks. In a patient with normal anatomy, surgery should be considered an option after all conservative treatment modalities are unsuccessful. Patients with anatomic abnormalities may benefit from earlier surgical consideration.
Traditionally, several different systems have been used to classify patellofemoral dysfunction. Some were developed from a functional perspective, whereas others were developed from an anatomic viewpoint. This latter perspective was held by Insall and Merchant, who classified patellofemoral dysfunction according to anatomy.
In 1972, Insall proposed a method of classification based on cartilage damage. The 3 categories in his system are normal, damaged, and variably damaged cartilage. In 1986, Fulkerson and Schutzer developed a system based on measuring arthralgias against joint instability to determine the necessity for surgical intervention. In 1988, Merchant created a system of 5 categories for patellofemoral dysfunction, which included acute trauma, dysplasia, idiopathic chondromalacia, osteochondritis dissecans, and synovial plicae.
No standardized and widely accepted method of patellofemoral dysfunction classification applicable for all specialties has been developed. However, for the purposes of rehabilitation medicine, patellofemoral disorders may be loosely divided into 3 categories. These are soft-tissue abnormalities, patellar instability due to subluxation and dislocation, and patellofemoral arthritis.