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Knee Bone or Joint Injury

Chondromalacia Patella

Minute Read


Posted 1 year ago


Last updated: 29/11/2022


by James McCormack

Chondromalacia Patella medical definition: A deterioration and softening of the cartilage at the back of the patella. 

What is Chondrosis?

“Chondro” in chondrosis means relating to cartilage, “osis” means relating to a pathological state. Therefore, chondrosis is the pathological state of cartilage. It is a general term used to describe the softening and breakdown of the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones at a joint. This process also is commonly called osteoarthritis. This term can be used for any joint in the body. It is common in some joints more than others, such as the knee, hands, hips, neck and lower back.

Chondromalacia Patella is the specific term for chondrosis to the retropatella cartilage. It is a degenerative joint disease that can be acute or chronic. Classification is based on severity of degeneration of the cartilage surfaces, there are 4 chondromalacia grades.

Diagram of chondromalacia patella

Chondromalacia Patella Grade 1

Grade 1 chondromalacia patella is the earliest stage of articular cartilage damage. Damage occurs to the surface of the curtilage and there will be start to soften.

Chondromalacia Patella Grade 2

Grade 2 chondromalacia patella is a progression of the articular cartilage damage. The softened cartilage will start to develop pitting and fissuring on the surface.

Chondromalacia Patella Grade 3

Grade 3 chondromalacia patella is a further progression of the articular cartilage damage. The softened cartilage is damaged with pitting and fissuring down to the bone.

Chondromalacia Patella Grade 4

Grade 4 chondromalacia patella is the most severe articular cartilage damage. It is extensive damage and complete wear of the cartilage surface to expose the underlying bone.

Symptoms of Chondromalacia Patella

  • Grinding sounds or sensations in the knee
  • Swelling
  • Knee locking
  • Pain walking down stairs
  • Pain during and flare up after activity
  • Pain with standing up from sitting or driving

Photo of knee pain walking down stairs

Chondromalacia Patella Epidemiology

Chondromalacia patella and patellofemoral joint pain are more common in women than men, and most common in the age group 50-59 years olds (Glaviano et al, 2015). Greater weight and obesity increase risk, as do some biomechanical factors such as high Q angle where the knee moves inwards.


Conditions of hypermobility such as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome often have issues with maltracking of the patella which can increase the chance of damage to the retropatella surface. In addition to these risk factors, trauma and injury such as a fall on the knee can cause injury to the cartilage of the patella.


Clinical assessment is the basis for a sound diagnosis. During the assessment, the history of the onset of symptoms, or the mechanism of injury will be described. The pattern of symptoms and medical history taken. The practitioner will want to get an understanding of the individual’s level of activity and if there have been any changes to their exercise and daily routines that might have contributed to the onset of their condition. Then a physical examination can be performed to look at flexibility, strength and biomechanics, as well as some specific tests to see if symptoms can be reproduced. The McConnell test for chondromalacia patella is described below. A clinical diagnosis can also be supported by the use of radiological imaging.

McConnell Test for Chondromalacia Patella

With the patient sitting with femur externally rotated and knee flexed to 120º, the patient contracts the quadriceps isometrically for a 10 second hold. If pain is experienced the knee is passively straightened by the clinician.

The contraction is repeated with a medial glide to the patella. If the pain is less with the medial glide then the probability of chondromalacia patella is increased. To be thorough, the test can be repeated at different knee flexion angles, knee angles of 90º, 60º, and 30º and fully extended.


Radiology of choice for grading of diagnosis

Will show subchondral oedema

Will show extent of pitting and fissuring to the cartilage surface


X-ray findings of reduced cartilage thickness

Will show bone-on-bone contact

There is a range of management and treatment options for chondromalacia patella. You can read more in the related article: Chondromalacia Patella Treatment.

Physiotherapy with James McCormack

This is not medical advice. We recommend a consultation with a medical professional such as James McCormack. He offers Online Physiotherapy Appointments for £45.

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