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How Physical Therapy Can Help Chondromalacia of the Patella

Chondromalacia is translated to mean soft cartilage. Chondromalacia of the patella is abnormal softening of the cartilage under the knee cap combined with poor alignment as it slides over the lower portion of the femur bone as the knee bends. Discomfort, pain, or a grinding sensation are usually associated with this condition along with limited function. Activities such as ascending or descending stairs or higher level activity such as running and jumping can cause mild pain and discomfort in the anterior knee region.

Anatomically the patella is attached to the quadriceps. With quadriceps muscle weakness there could be poor tracking of the patella over the femur causing chronic problems and buckling of the knee. There also may be the sensation of mild swelling and weakness in the knee joint.

Treatment for chondromalacia is effective with proper strengthening and stretching of the quadriceps muscle to realign the tracking of the patella. A physical therapist who is skilled in knee rehabilitation should design an exercise program specifically to help isolate the inner and outer thigh muscles as well as the gluteal muscles to normalize patellar tracking. Low impact cardio workouts are emphasized such as swimming and biking versus running and jumping. Knee braces that help align the patella with high level activity can help prevent poor tracking. Frequently, kinesio tape or athletic taping can help with realignment relieving pressure from under the patella which a physical therapist would apply.

Research has not shown chondromalacia contributing towards osteoarthritis in the knee joint in later years. Infrequently, surgery is used to correct problems associated with having chondromalacia. Doctors will sometimes prescribe NSAIDs for pain relief and use of ice after increased activity. Sometimes a cortisone injection will help relieve pain long enough to begin an exercise program with a skilled physical therapist. Prognosis for treating chondromalacia with traditional therapeutic exercise is good, however does not always seem to fix the entire problem. Therefore, it is important to discuss this issue with a medical doctor or licensed physical therapist so they may utilize all avenues to treat the knee properly.

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