Chondromalacia is a term used to describe damage (typically softening) of the articular cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. There are a variety of causes of this injury. In young people, it is most likely due to an acute injury such as a fall, overuse, problems with knee alignment, or even muscle weakness.

In older people, this injury may be caused by simple wear and tear and arthritis.

The underside of the kneecap, and the top of the thigh bone (femur) are both covered with a smooth and slippery (articular) cartiledge that allows these two bones to slide easily over one another when the knee flexes. If this cartiledge is damaged, the surface becomes rough and gets irritated with movement. Damage can be minor or severe, and may result in varying degrees of pain.

Symptoms of Chondromalacia
The most common symptom of chondromalacia is a dull pain under or around the kneecap that increases while walking down stairs. There may also be pain with stair climbing or getting out of a chair, etc. This injury is common in runners, skiers, cyclists, and soccer players.

The best treatment for chondromalacia is low-impact exercise that strengthen muscles (particularly the inner part of the quadriceps ) and decreasing any jumping or impact. Swimming, stationary bicycle, and cross-country skiing are good ways to strengthen the joint without impact. It's helpful to avoid any activity that requires the knee to flex more than 90 degrees.

Finally, arthroscopic surgery may be used to smooth the surface of the articular cartilage and clean out cartilage fragments that cause the joint to catch during bending and straightening. This determination can only be made by a proper evaluation and diagnosis, so always see your doctor for knee pain that lasts more than two weeks.