Running, walking, hiking and other cardiovascular exercises can be very beneficial for the body. They can help to maintain a healthy weight, strengthen muscles and bones, and relive stress. Over time, however, weight bearing exercise can put a lot of strain on muscles and joints, particularly the knee area.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), also known as runner’s knee, is a common problem massage therapists encounter in patients. The condition is the result of degenerative change to the cartilage in or around the knee cap, and is particularly prevalent in athletes, as well as adolescent girls. PFPS sufferers can experience aching pain and swelling at the front of the knee and around the kneecap, and often have trouble walking up and down hills or sitting for long periods of time.
Fortunately, massage therapy has been shown to be an effective complimentary treatment for PFPS, with a number of different techniques proving useful in reducing symptoms and aiding the healing process.
The patella—or the knee cap—is a small bone which is covered by thick cartilage, and is attached to the quadriceps femoris muscles at the front of the thigh. When these muscles contract, the patellar tendon pulls on the patella in order to straighten the knee. However, if they do not do so with enough force, it can cause the normal pattern to go off-track, damaging the cartilage over time.
Students in massage therapist college need to be mindful that cartilage damage may also lead to a number of other issues, including erosion of the bone under the patella, inflammation of the synovial membrane and various soft tissue injuries, all of which can contribute to PFPS. The condition can also be caused by misalignments in the hip, pelvis and ankle joints, which all share certain weight-bearing duties with the knee during movement.
Students enrolled in a massage therapist program learn a number of different techniques which can be used to help relieve PFPS, depending on a patient’s individual symptoms. The treatment plan of a patient with PFPS may include:
An RMT may also perform passive range of motion exercises on the patient throughout their treatment, and may even recommend integrated exercises for the patient to undertake at home in order to aid their recovery.
A case report published in 2008 by American massage therapist Jennifer Zalta demonstrated the effectiveness of massage therapy in treating a 29-year-old female athlete who experienced PFPS after undergoing anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery.
At the end of a ten-week treatment, the patient showed significant improvement in patella tracking, as well as reduced hamstring flexion contracture and a substantial decrease in pain levels. The specialized treatment made use of several modalities, including lymphatic drainage, myofascial release, trigger point release and cross-fiber friction.
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