#PTonICE Daily Show – Tuesday, November 21st, 2023 – Patellofemoral pain syndrome: STUDs & DUDs

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Extremity Division Leader Mark Gallant discusses the concept of “DUDS” and “STUDS” when working with patellofemoral pain syndrome. 

Mark describes three outdated treatment paradigms or “DUDS” including an overemphasis on imaging, patellofemoral tracking, and VMO specific-strengthening. 

Mark encourages listeners instead to focus on the four “STUDS” of patellofemoral pain treatment: assessing current work demands on the knee vs. current tissue capacity, addressing power & not just strength of the knee, working in motor coordination & skill training especially when reintroducing functional movements like jumping, running, or squatting, and finally, ensuring load distribution across tissues is as equal as possible by working on range of motion.

Take a listen or check out the episode transcription below.

If you’re looking to learn more about our Extremity Management course or our online physical therapy courses, check our entire list of continuing education courses for physical therapy including our physical therapy certifications by checking out our website. Don’t forget about all of our FREE eBooks, prebuilt workshops, free CEUs, and other physical therapy continuing education on our Resources tab.


Hey everyone, this is Alan. Chief Operating Officer here at ICE. Before we get started with today’s episode, I want to talk to you about VersaLifts. Today’s episode is brought to you by VersaLifts. Best known for their heel lift shoe inserts, VersaLifts has been a leading innovator in bringing simple but highly effective rehab tools to the market. If you have clients with stiff ankles, Achilles tendinopathy, or basic skeletal structure limitations keeping them from squatting with proper form and good depth, a little heel lift can make a huge difference. VersaLifts heel lifts are available in three different sizes and all of them add an additional half inch of h drop to any training shoe, helping athletes squat deeper with better form. Visit www.vlifts.com/icephysio or click the link in today’s show notes to get your VersaLifts today.

All right, what is up PT on Ice Daily Crew? Dr. Mark Gallant here, Clinical Tuesday, coming at you the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2023. So first off, I want to say super grateful to have the opportunity to be on this podcast, rapping to you all and going around the country talking about these topics. So thank you all very much to anyone who’s listened to this podcast or anyone that’s caught us on the road. But before we dive into today’s topic, last couple opportunities to catch the extremity crew crew on the road for 2023, we’ve got Cody is going to be in Newark, California on December 2nd and 3rd. So so a nice West Coast opportunity. And then Lindsey is going to be in Windsor, Colorado, December 9th and 10th. So those will be the last two for the year before we we take a little break and then we will kick off the second weekend of January for a full slate in 2024. So if you’re trying to catch us on the road this year, those are your last two opportunities. And then make sure you grab those seats for 2024, because courses are selling out now and hitting max capacity. So make sure that you get those sooner than later. In addition, tonight on our Vice, so if you’re signed up for the Vice program, our virtual ICE, Paul Killoren is gonna be on talking about peripheral dry needling. If there’s any topic that pairs well with what the extremity crew is typically saying, it would be the ICE dry needling department talking about peripheral dry needling. So definitely catch that one tonight around 8.30 Eastern Standard Time.

All right, for today’s topic, what we wanna talk about is duds and studs when it comes to patellofemoral pain syndrome, or what I would prefer calling kneecap pain. So what are the things that we’ve known over the years or we’ve tried over the years with kneecap pain that the research really does not shake out very favorably for? And what are the things with kneecap pain where it’s like, Ooh, that that’s something that we definitely want to pay more attention to. So I’m going to list all the duds and all the studs off, and then we’ll break each one of those down individually. So for the duds, we’ve got imaging to the kneecap as a dud specifically for chondromalacia patella, patellar tracking and trying to impact patellar tracking would also be a dud, and then specific strengthening or specific loading or an attempt at specific loading to the VMO or the oblique fibers of the vastus medialis. So those are our duds and our studs are going to be building work volume capacity or looking at that person’s work volume compared to their current capacity and making adjustments in their training. We have specific strengthening or building capacity to that anterior knee with both strength, endurance, and power. We have skill training or motor coordination, and then we have mobility towards the anterior knee and surrounding structures. So those would be the three duds, the four studs.

Now let’s break each one of those down individually. So for most body parts, We now know that when we take asymptomatic folks and we image that region of the body, we’re going to find as many tissue changes as we would for those folks that are symptomatic. Historically, we’ve called these abnormal tissue findings. Again, these are fairly normal findings for asymptomatic individuals, again, in every single region of the body. What we see with chondromalacia patella, so softening of the cartilage of the posterior patella, What we see when we look at that is if we take a bunch of asymptomatic individuals and symptomatic individuals, run them all through the MRI tube and say, who’s got signs of tissue softening to that cartilage of the back of the knee, that number is equal or close to equal for both the symptomatic group and the asymptomatic group. So it would be hard to say that the finding on the image of chondromalacia patella is driving kneecap pain in any considerable way.

The second dud is patella femoral tracking. So there was this theory for a long time that the lateral structures of the patella or the structures that attach laterally to the patella are pulling that patella off track or creating some level of tilt or compression to the patella that is driving that anterior knee pain. What we now know is that this is not the case typically. The other thing with that was that the VMO was weak and not allowing that even force. We now have studies, it’s a pretty cool study, where they took a group of 14-year-old women, they asked them all about their knee pain, how much pain are you in, and then they used imaging to track how their, to look at how their patella was tracking. So they got all that data at 14 when those individuals were at their peak symptom level. They then followed up with those individuals four to five years later, so now they’re 18 to 19 years old, All of these individuals had significantly reduced pain. So the patella femoral pain or the kneecap pain had relatively worked itself out. And then they re-imaged and retracked how that patella was tracking. What was interesting is most all of them had a full reduction of symptoms. the knee was tracking the exact same way. So they found no difference in how the knee was tracking, yet that person had significantly reduced symptoms, which again, hard to say that that knee tracking is one, are we even able to intervene on it? And two, does it mean anything if all of the symptoms become reduced despite that knee tracking changing?

And along those lines, the third dud, is specific training to the vastus medialis oblique fibers. What we now know is it’s incredibly hard to isolate those fibers. When we activate the quads, we’re getting the whole quad, all of the heads of the quad. And even if we did attempt it, we have no proof of correlation that those specific fibers are driving the symptoms. So our three duds, looking at imaging to drive treatment, specifically with Chondromalacia patella, being overly concerned with with patella tracking and trying to impact that patella tracking with the one thing that we’ve shown the good research that impacts patella that that would be theoretically impacting patella tracking is that medial knee taping mcconnell taping what we now know is that is much more of a symptom modulator and has no long-term impact on that patella tracking. And then VMO, specifically training the oblique fibers of the quad. What we now know is getting the quads more robust and resilient is the way to go, being far less concerned about those very specific fibers that are very hard to isolate anyway. So those are our three duds.

Our four studs are going to be looking at that person’s overall work volume compared to their capacity. So this weekend is a prime time example. We’re going to have tons of folks going out for turkey trots. We’re going to have a lot of folks going out and playing backyard football with their family on Thanksgiving. They may not have been doing any training over the last four to six months to prepare their anterior knee. for that capacity. Family members might say, hey, I’m jumping into this turkey trot, and then Bill says, you know what, I’m gonna jump in with you, even though I haven’t run since 1968 when I was training for Vietnam. That individual may encounter some anterior knee pain because the capacity of their anterior knee is not matched to the work that it’s about to do. So anytime we’ve got one of these pain symptoms, syndromes, kneecap pain, looking at, okay, what is it you’re doing? and what is the capacity of the knee currently, and trying to figure out where those gaps are.

Along those lines, the second stud is can we increase the load capacity, the capacity to handle speed or power, and the capacity of that anterior knee to handle endurance. What is your ability to produce load or to tolerate load in knee extension or squat? What’s your ability to sustain that over long periods of time for high repetitions or high time intervals? What is your ability to generate power with those things? Dustin Jones came on here a couple weeks ago and talked about how we may have named the wrong enemy when it comes to deconditioned older adults that it may be more power instead of strength is the problem that a lot of folks actually have load capacity tolerance to their tissue. What they lack is the ability to handle that load while generating high speeds or force. We see the same thing when it comes to kneecap pain. We’re getting better at getting people stronger to build that load capacity. We also need to make sure they can handle that at fast speeds. Our box jumps, our broad jumps, our cleans, our snatches, or sprinting, those sort of activities, we need the same sort of intention to build the tolerance. So building the local strength capacity or building the local tissue capacity of the knee.

The third stud is skill or motor coordination. The law of specificity has reigned true in strength and conditioning since it was looked at. If you want someone to get better at running, train them in running. If you want to get them better at squatting, they need to train the squat. If you want their step up to look better, they need to be working on step up variations. So this has a very much skill component like any other skill in life. It takes repetition, It takes breaking it into chunks, it takes slowing it down, speeding it up. If we want their step up, or their step down, or their running, or their squatting to look better, making sure that we break those things down individually and look at it in addition to the first two components.

And then the fourth piece that’s a stud is range of motion. What is the range of the tissue surrounding the anterior knee that’s gonna dictate how much force is going through that knee? So a couple of the big ones are, what is ankle dorsiflexion like? If that person significantly lacks ankle dorsiflexion, we know those forces are going to go up the chain, often landing on that anterior knee. So attempting to impact or offload dorsiflexion will help with that anterior knee pain. What is the length of the rectus femoris? What is that quad length like? If that tissue is super gummed up and tonic, we may want to work some eccentrics to improve the mobility of that tissue overall. And along those same lines, what is that individual’s hip extension looking like? If that person lacks significant hip extension, again, they may encounter more force to the anterior knee.

So again, for our studs or duds, looking at the three duds, looking at imaging or being overly concerned with imaging, specifically chondromalacia patella, being overly concerned with patella tracking and trying to impact it, and being overly concerned with the VMO. Those would be our three DUDs that we want to spend less time addressing or no time at all. Our four DUDs are going to be looking with the patient at what is their overall work volume compared to their current capacity. What is the ability of the anterior knee to tolerate loads from a load capacity or strength perspective, from an endurance and from a powers perspective. What is their skill in the movement that they’re trying to perform? Do they need to become a better runner? Do they need to get better at squatting? Do they need to get better at step ups? Looking at that specific motion. And then finally, looking at any range of motion deficits of the lower quarter. Specifically, what is that quad length like? What is their ankle dorsiflexion? And what is their ability to extend their hip? Hope this helps. Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and get some good relaxation and time with your families. Lindsay and Cody will see you on the road in early December. I’ll see you on the road in 2024. Hope you have a great week.

Hey, thanks for tuning in to the PT on Ice daily show. If you enjoyed this content, head on over to iTunes and leave us a review, and be sure to check us out on Facebook and Instagram at the Institute of Clinical Excellence. If you’re interested in getting plugged into more ice content on a weekly basis while earning CUs from home, check out our virtual ice online mentorship program at ptonice.com. While you’re there, sign up for our Hump Day Hustling newsletter for a free email every Wednesday morning with our top five research articles and social media posts that we think are worth reading. Head over to ptonice.com and scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up.