Something that comes up pretty often when people email me is a knee condition called chondromalacia patella (also sometimes called patellofemoral pain syndrome).
As you may know, I was struggling with chondromalacia patella in both knees when I first developed SI joint dysfunction.
It seems to me that the two can go together pretty often, because both can be caused by muscle weakness and abnormal gait patterns. (So one can cause symptoms that will lead to the other).
Since people ask me so often how I healed my knees, I thought it was high time I address this question in its own post.
What is chrondromalacia patella?
In a nutshell, the term means “inflammation of the cartilage of the patella.”
It’s caused when the kneecap doesn’t follow normal motion patterns as you move your leg. Often, this is because the muscles surrounding it are weak, or imbalanced (meaning some muscles are significantly stronger than others, and pulling on it unevenly).
As you move, the kneecap ends up moving around and scraping the cartilage underneath it.
Sometimes, this can create permanent damage to the cartilage that requires surgery. This is, of course, more common in people who perform prolonged, high-impact activities (for example, it can be pretty common in runners).
In my case
For me, x-ray showed that, although there was inflammation to the cartilage in the knee, no permanent damage had occurred.
This is because, in my case, the inflammation hadn’t been caused by activity, as much as it had by muscle weakness– specifically, weakness of the quadriceps muscle.
The quadriceps muscle is actually a name for a group of the three major muscles that make you your thigh. When these muscles are strong and balanced, they help ensure the kneecap maintains proper alignment:
When these muscles are weak or imbalanced, the kneecap can be pulled more to one side than another, which is what creates this pain and inflammation.
So luckily, in my case, I just had to strengthen my quads (as well as do everything I could to help the existing inflammation go down).
How did I do this?
My physical therapist helped me a lot with my knees. (She had no idea what she was doing for the SI joint, but at least my knees got better). Knee issues are much more widely recognized than SI joint dysfunction, so it’s much easier to find a physical therapist who knows what they’re doing.
Kristen helped me with some manual techniques, using her hands to gently move my kneecap into place and also to loosen the muscles around it.
The most important thing she did for me, however, was to introduce me to Kinesiotape. This form of knee taping made all the difference in the world, and now I swear by it to anyone who asks me for advice.
People often confuse Kinesiotape with KT tape, or other forms of taping. However, Kristen let me try all of them and I found that Kinesiotape really was the only one that did any good.
You do need a trained physical therapist to show you how to apply it– it’s important that you put the tape on with exactly the right tension, because it works with your muscle reflexes.
However, once you’re confident in doing it on your own, you can actually just buy your own roll and be on your merry way.
This is the technique that Kirsten taught me, and honestly, I think it’s better than all the rest:
Of course, the key to long term recovery for me, and for anyone, is going to be to strengthen the quadriceps muscles. That’s how you make sure that, in the long term, the kneecap stays in place, and you won’t need to keep taping it.
I was caught in a Catch-22 because, at the same time as my knees were improving, my SI joints were getting rapidly worse.
However, once I joined a pool and started exercising there regularly, my knee problems eventually just faded away. I wasn’t really having any knee pain any more, as long as I kept my knees taped, so I was doing exercises more specifically to target my SI joints.
However, just being in the pool and doing my pool running strengthened my quads enough that eventually I stopped needing to tape my knees at all.
My chondromalacia patella healed after about 6 months, and luckily, it’s never come back. (Granted, I’ve never gone back to running, but it’s been okay with the relatively easy 1-2 hour hikes I do).
The easiest quadriceps exercise
If you can’t get to a pool, don’t worry! You can start strengthening the quads with this very easy exercise (although, with anything I recommend, the best thing for you to do is find a qualified physical therapist to show you how to do it in person. This is just for ideas!).
Okay, this was a super long post…
But I hope it was helpful!
If you have any questions, leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Quadriceps picture courtesy of Athikhun.suw via Wikipedia