Chondromalacia Patellae and Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome / Runners Knee are terms often used interchangeably, catchall terms to describe anterior knee pain regardless of the cause of the pain. They are not the same. However, Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome / Runners Knee may lead to Chondromalacia Patellae.
Unlike Chondromalacia, in Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome / Runners Knee there are no visible changes in the articular cartilage on the under surface of the kneecap. An MRI can confirm Chondromalacia Patellae.
Chondromalacia Patellae is a chronic degenerative condition affecting the articular cartilage on the under surface of the kneecap. The cartilage softens, develops fissures, breaks down, and begins to look like crabmeat. In extreme cases the cartilage breaks down enough to expose the undersurface of the kneecap. This results in pain and inflammation. The type of damage to the cartilage is different than the degeneration in knee osteoarthritis.
A newer procedure that may be available soon for treating chondromalacia patella is the CARILAGE TRANSPLANT: small pieces of cartilage are taken from an area of the knee where there is minimum weight bearing, grown outside the body and transplanted in back into the damaged part. This procedure can repair MINOR defects only.
The symptoms and the treatments of Chondromalacia Patellae and Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome / Runners Knee are essentially the same - an exercise program to strengthen and stretch the muscles around the knee, avoiding high impact activities, kneeling, and squatting. See Runners Knee.
Sometimes surgery is required. Shaving/smoothing the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap can be done by arthroscopy. Rarely, in extreme cases, the kneecap may have to be replaced with polyethylene prosthesis.