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Physical Therapy for Chondromalacia – Information, Exercises, and More

The pain and discomfort you’re feeling in your legs from chondromalacia have you searching for help. 

You want to get back to doing the things you love, but you don’t know where to start to overcome your symptoms. 

We’re here to help.

In this guide, we’re discussing everything you need to know about chondromalacia patella, treatment options, exercises, and more.

What is Chondromalacia?


Your body is full of joints cushioned by a type of cartilage called articular cartilage. It’s a rubbery, tough tissue that covers the ends of bones inside a joint. This cartilage helps cushion bones and allows them to glide smoothly over one another as you move

Over time this cartilage softens, or worse, deteriorates. This condition is called chondromalacia. 

As the cartilage continues to deteriorate, the bones rub together resulting in pain.

Chondromalacia can affect any joint in the body, but most commonly affects the cartilage under your patella—your knee cap—and is referred to as chondromalacia patella.

Typically, when you hear someone mention chondromalacia, they are referring to chondromalacia patella, which is what we’ll be discussing in this article.

What Causes Chondromalacia?

There are several reasons that chondromalacia occurs, but the most common causes involve:  

  • Abnormal positioning of the knee cap
  • Tightness/weakness of the muscles associated with the knees
  • Too much activity involving the knee 
  • Flat feet
  • A knee injury
  • Improper knee alignment

Who is at Risk for Chondromalacia?

Although most common in athletes who put repeated stress on their knees, you don’t have to be a marathon runner to get diagnosed with chondromalacia. 

Others at risk for chondromalacia include:

  • Young adults
  • Women
  • Professions that involve a lot of bending and kneeling at the knee
  • People who have had a kneecap injury, fracture, or dislocation

Chondromalacia Symptoms

Pain, pain, and more pain. That’s what chondromalacia symptoms are made of. 

Similarly to runners knee, people with chondromalacia may experience the following symptoms:

  • Knee tenderness
  • Swelling and inflammation around the kneecap
  • Pain that increases after sitting for long periods of time
  • Pain when walking up or down stairs or getting out of a chair
  • Grinding or cracking sensation when the knee is straightened

Chondromalacia pain may also occur after prolonged periods of activity that place extreme pressure on the knees.

If you are suffering from knee pain or other symptoms of chondromalacia, contact your doctor. Early treatment may prevent further damage to the articular cartilage and ease your symptoms.

Chondromalacia Treatment

Your physician will likely schedule an assessment to figure out the right treatment plan for you. 

In most cases of chondromalacia, your physician will start with conservative treatment options, and if those cannot relieve symptoms, move on to a more serious treatment plan involving surgery. 

Non-Surgical Treatment for Chondromalacia

The first line of defense against chondromalacia involves rest, stabilization, and icing the joint. Physical therapy, and focusing on activity modification, are the most common treatments for chondromalacia. 

Treatment that may be combined with these include: 

If non-surgical treatments do not reduce the pain or dysfunction, your physician may recommend surgical treatment.

Surgical Treatments for Chondromalacia

An arthroscopy is the most common type of surgery performed for chondromalacia. 

Your physician may recommend arthroscopy to check the cartilage around your kneecap. If the cartilage is softened or shredded, the surgeon will remove those layers during the surgery. 

If re-alignment of your kneecap, or other parts of the knee, to reduce the wear and tear on your knee cartilage is necessary, this may also be done during surgery.

Chondromalacia Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

There is no sense in living with chondromalacia. Physical therapy treatment is one of the best options in overcoming the pain and discomfort associated with the ailment. 

At your physical therapy visit, the therapist will access your condition, and create a treatment plan based on your unique needs. 

Your appointments will focus on improving… 

  • Strength
  • Flexibility and
  • Alignment

… around the knee joint, and your entire lower extremity. 

Your physical therapist will determine which muscles require the most attention/strengthening, like your knee, hip, and leg muscles.

Best Chondromalacia Exercises

Correcting alignment issues and strengthening some weaker muscles that support your knee can relieve the pain and other symptoms associated with chondromalacia.  

Most chondromalacia exercises can be done at home with nothing other than your own body weight. 

Exercises that can be done to help chondromalacia symptoms are: 

  1. Roller leg lifts
  2. Straight leg lifts
  3. Clamshell exercises
  4. Wall slides
  5. Bridges
  6. Hip Abductions

Exercises to Avoid

Although there are several exercises and stretches that you can benefit from, there are a few that should be avoided and could make your chondromalacia worse. 

Until being cleared by your doctor or physical therapist, we recommend that you avoid: 

  • Squats
  • Leg extension machines
  • High-impact exercises
  • Weight-bearing exercises

Starting an exercise routine to improve your condition can be intimidating. Seek advice/guidance from your doctor or physical therapist until you are comfortable with the proper technique and form at home.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Chondromalacia

In Motion O.C.’s mission is: To bring hope, healing, confidence, and joy to others. 

You don’t have to continue living with the pain. Our staff is here to help you manage your chondromalacia symptoms and hit the road to recovery. 

As the #1 physical therapist practice on Yelp for the entire country, we’re committed to finding the best treatment plan for you. Schedule a consultation today.

*This information about physical therapy for Chondromalacia was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.