Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Exercises | Best Rehab & Treatment

Written By on July 14, 2020 — Medically Reviewed By Kristopher Ceniza

Written by on July 14, 2020 — Medically Reviewed By: Kristopher Cenzia

What is patellofemoral pain syndrome?

Knee pain and injury are quite common within the human race. Due to our upright stance, most of the weight from our body is constantly resting on these sturdy joints.

In addition, physical activity such as walking, running, sports, and swimming can put a massive amount of strain on this part of the body.

It is no wonder that knee injury is so prominent when it comes to physical injuries. Patellofemoral pain syndrome, or more commonly known as runners knee, refers to the pain at the front of your knee, or kneecap pain.

It is specific to this region, the patella, and is commonly found in people who participate in sports that consist of large amounts of running or jumping.

It is often defined by a sharp or lasting pain that exists mainly when walking up and downstairs, while running, squatting, or sitting for long periods of time.

As opposed to many other types of a knee injury, patellofemoral pain syndrome is more common among young adults, especially women who are twice as likely to develop the injury than men.

Exercises to treat patellofemoral pain syndrome

There are many recommended exercises that can be used to treat patellofemoral pain syndrome.

These can range from individual exercises that can be performed as part of a circuit in the early stages of recovery to cardiovascular exercise which will help to improve your fitness as well as restore movement in your injured knee.

Patellofemoral pain exercises are specific to the condition, as they avoid excessive strain to the joint following an injury. This will reduce pain and inflammation of the area as well as increasing the range of movement slowly.

The trick is to always start conservative and work your way toward more extensive exercise.

Knee Force Knee Sleeve

Some initial exercises you can practice before you jump into swimming laps are as follows.

Investing in a pool noodle is a great idea as it is a beneficial tool to help you stay stable in the water. It is also the key piece of equipment in the exercises below.

1. Front to back pool knee lift

front to back pool knee lift knee pain exercise for patellofemoral pain syndrome girl or woman doing exercise on the pool

Hold the pool noodle folded in a U-shape below the water. Stand on your left leg and place the noodle behind your knee.

Keeping this leg straight, press the suspended right leg down towards the front of your body. Lift the leg up slowly again and repeat several times before switching legs.

For each of the outlined pool exercises, repeat five to ten times before switching.

2.  Side to side pool knee lift

side to side pool knee lift knee exercise for knee pain, woman doing pool knee exercises for patellofemoral pain syndrome

Holding the pool noodle in the same position, stand on your left leg in the pool. Place your right leg over the pool noodle and press the suspended leg, the left, down to the right.

Lift the left leg back up and in front of the body. Then you can press this suspended leg down and to the left.

Alternate from side to side until you have reached the 60-second mark.

3. Rotation pool knee lift

patellofemoral pain syndrome rotation pool knee lift exercise for knee pain

Holding the pool noodle you stand on your left leg. Press the suspended right leg down and to the left while turning your toes in, toward your right leg.

Lift this suspended leg back up in front of your body and then press it back down, turning the toes out, away from the body.

Continue to alternate from side to side for a 60-second period.

4. One leg pool balance

one leg pool balance for patellofemoral pain syndrome, woman doing one leg pool balance exercise for knee pain

For the one leg pool balance stand on one leg in the pool and place the pool noodle in the U-shape under your raised leg.

Keep your arms at your sides. Lean forward and push your hips back. Keep your back straight as you do so.

Reach downwards with your hand and then return to the starting position. Complete five times on one side and then switch sides and repeat. Do this exercise twice on either side.

5. Wall squat with a ball

wall squat with a ball for knee pain exercise, patellofemoral pain syndrome exercises

Now we move out of the pool. For the wall squat with a ball you will, of course, need a ball that is about the size of a soccer ball.

Stand with your back, shoulders ad head against the wall and look forward. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and about 2 feet in front of you.

Place the ball behind your back. Keeping your back straight and upright, and slowly squat at a 45-degree angle.

Your thighs should not be parallel with the floor.

Hold for 10 seconds and then slowly slide back up the wall. repeat 10 times for 3 sets in total.

6. Elastic knee stretch

man doing elastic knee stretch exercise for knee pain, patellofemoral pain syndrome exercises

Wrap your elastic around the ankle of your uninjured leg. Tie the other end in a knot and close it in the door.

Knee Force Knee Sleeve

Stand facing the door on the injured leg and bend your knee a little, while keeping your thigh muscle tight.

Maintain this position as you move the leg with the elastic attached straight back behind. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps each.

7. Resisted knee extension

patellofemoral pain syndrome exercises, resisted knee extension for knee pain

For the resisted terminal knee extension, make a loop with elastic and tie a knot in each end.

Close one knot in the door at knee height. Put the elastic around your injured leg so that the elastic sits around the back of your knee.

Lift the other foot off the ground and hold onto a stable chair should you need it to balance.

Bend the knee with the elastic at a 45-degree angle. Slowly straighten the leg and keep your thigh muscle tight as you do so.

Repeat this 15 times in two sets. For an easier rendition of this exercise, you can start by standing with both feet on the ground.

This will give some additional support.

8. Standing calf stretch

patellofemoral pain syndrome exercises, standing calf stretch exercises for knee pain, man exercising for knee pain

To begin the standing calf stretch stand facing the wall with both hands against it at about eye level.

Keep one leg behind with your heel to the floor and the other leg should be forward.

Turn the back foot inwards slightly toward your body as you slowly lean into the wall before you. Here you should feel the stretch in the back of your calf.

Hold for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times before switching to the other leg. This exercise should be performed several times each day to strengthen the knees.

9. Clam exercise

patellofemoral pain syndrome exercises, girl doing clam exercise for knee pain

Next is the clam exercise. Lay on your uninjured side with both your hips and knees bent and feet together. Slowly raise the top leg toward the ceiling, but keep your heels touching.

Hold the position for 2 seconds before you lower your leg back into the starting position. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps each.

10. Iliotibial band stretch

woman doing iliotibial band stretch exercise for knee pain, patellofemoral pain syndrome exercises

For an iliotibial band stretch you can try the side bending exercise.

Start by crossing one leg in front of the other and lean in the opposite direction from the leg in front. Reach the same arm as your back leg over your head as you do.

Hold this position for around 15 to 30 seconds and then return to the starting position. repeat this 3 times on the same leg and then switch legs and repeat.

Do not start with intensive exercise but rather listen to your body and stop if at any point you feel the slightest pain. this can indicate overextension of the recovering joint and can cause further injury before it is fully healed.

Water exercises, such as water aerobics and swimming, can be a great way to begin your road to recovery.

It is one of the most vulnerable joints in the body and water exercise can act to strengthen the joint while also increasing cardiovascular fitness.

The best thing about water patellofemoral syndrome exercises is when you have recently had a knee injury, is that the buoyancy of the water takes some of the pressure and strain off the knee which you can experience on land.

There is much less stress on the joint in the water in comparison and this is why it is such a highly acclaimed form of physical therapy for knee pain and injury. It will support your weight so that your knees don’t have to.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does patellofemoral pain syndrome last?

In short, patellofemoral pain syndrome can last anywhere between six weeks to six months. With treatment, the recovery time can be reduced, but it is dependant on the individual’s health and the extent of the injury.

Can patellofemoral pain syndrome be cured?

This syndrome can be managed and injuries prevented in the future. There is no magic cure for patellofemoral syndrome, but there is an end in sight.

Your knee injury can recover anywhere between six weeks to six months, but people who have experienced patellofemoral pain syndrome are more prone to knee injuries in the future.

You should practice joint strengthening exercises, such as swimming, walking, or low-impact circuit training following any injury to the knees.

What helps patellofemoral pain syndrome?

There are many treatments that you can try to assist in the recovery of patellofemoral pain syndrome. You will first need to consult your doctor or physical therapist to work out a treatment plan.

It may begin with the RICE method, rest, ice, compression and elevation, and progress from here once the joint has had time to heal.

Once you are no longer experiencing pain walking or doing daily tasks, then you can proceed to incorporate physical activity. This may include low-impact circuits, brisk walking, or water activities such as swimming and water aerobics.

Mitch Torres (PT)
Mitch is a physical therapist, personal trainer, and nutrition coach. Fascinated with the knee joint, Mitch poured that passion into writing about knee pain and how to overcome it with movement. His goal is to teach you how to apply this knowledge into your daily life, so you can keep knee pain away for good.