Why does your knee keep on hurtin’?

As the adage goes “ The more treatments we have for something, the more we don’t understand the cause”, it seems that anterior (front) knee pain or patellofemoral (kneecap) dysfunction would fall into that category. We understand that a torn meniscus or torn anterior cruciate ligament requires surgery. So how about that nagging, chronic pain in the front of your knee. The kind of pain that returns on a whim and makes you think twice about returning to your break-dancing hey day at your nephew’s wedding. The kind of “twinge” that shrinks your confidence on the 18th hole of your company’s summer, for-boasting-rights golf outing. The reason—not as obvious. So here’s one for you, for boasting rights, of course. In Dye et al (AJSM 1998), the lead researcher decides that he would be the guinea pig in a “mapping” of pain responses during arthroscopic probing, WITHOUT anesthesia, of his anterior knee and patellofemoral joint. Ouch!! The authors rated the level of conscious awareness from no sensation to severe pain. They also subdivided the results based on the ability to accurately localize the sensation. So what did they find? They found that palpation to the anterior synovial linings and capsule (front aspect of the inside of the knee joint), retinaculum (ligament on either side of the knee cap), and fat pad (underneath the patellar tendon) produced moderate to severe pain. The most interesting thing about this study, besides the masochistic aspect, is that NO sensation was detected on the patellar articular cartilage (the underside of the kneecap) even in high level “chondromalacia” or arthritis of the undersurface of the kneecap. The implication of this study is that anterior knee pain is NOT caused by the patellofemoral or kneecap joint.

To take it a step further, Faulkerson et al (Clin Orthop 1985) reported a direct relationship between the severity of pain in the anterior knee and the severity of neural damage within the lateral retinaculum (ligament on the outside of the kneecap). They found that patients presenting with moderate to severe pain were found to have the highest degree of change in the neural tissues of the lateral retinaculum. Very interesting! I’m sure you would agree.

What this means for your therapy is that we can utilize manual therapy and taping strategies to address the neural and soft tissue changes in the lateral retinaculum.  KinesioTaping techniques can produce a “proprioceptive override” effect in which the stimulation of the tape on the skin can override and cancel out the pain receptors. This, of course, is an adaptive process that occurs through consistent intervention and compliance with a home exercise program. Let us show YOU how to get back control of your knee pain.

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