The role of cartilage stress in patellofemoral pain

Thor F. Besier, Saikat Pal, Christine E. Draper, Michael Fredericson, Garry E. Gold, Scott L. Delp, Gary S. Beaupré

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Purpose Elevated cartilage stress has been identified as a potential mechanism for retropatellar pain; however, there are limited data in the literature to support this mechanism. Females are more likely to develop patellofemoral pain than males, yet the causes of this dimorphism are unclear. We used experimental data and computational modeling to determine whether patients with patellofemoral pain had elevated cartilage stress compared with pain-free controls and test the hypothesis that females exhibit greater cartilage stress than males. Methods We created finite element models of 24 patients with patellofemoral pain (11 males and 13 females) and 16 pain-free controls (8 males and 8 females) to estimate peak patellar cartilage stress (strain energy density) during a stair climb activity. Simulations took into account cartilage morphology from magnetic resonance imaging, joint posture from weight-bearing magnetic resonance imaging, and muscle forces from an EMG-driven model. Results We found no difference in peak patellar strain energy density between those with patellofemoral pain (1.9 ± 1.23 J·m-3) and control subjects (1.66 ± 0.75 J·m-3, P = 0.52). Females exhibited greater cartilage stress compared with males (2.2 vs 1.3 J·m-3, respectively; P = 0.0075), with large quadriceps muscle forces (3.7 body weight in females vs 3.3 body weight in males) and 23% smaller joint contact area (females, 467 ± 59 mm2, vs males, 608 ± 95 mm2). Conclusions Patients with patellofemoral pain did not display significantly greater patellar cartilage stress compared with pain-free controls; however, there was a great deal of subject variation. Females exhibited greater peak cartilage stress compared with males, which might explain the greater prevalence of patellofemoral pain in females compared with that in males, but other mechanical and biological factors are clearly involved in this complex pathway to pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2416-2422
Number of pages7
JournalMedicine and Science in Sports and Exercise
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation




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