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Pressure pain thresholds in adults with patellofemoral pain and patellofemoral joint osteoarthritis: a case-control study

  • Clare Bartholomew , Laura Edwards and Simon Lack EMAIL logo


Background and aims

Patellofemoral pain (PFP) and patellofemoral joint osteoarthritis (PFJOA) are common non-self-limiting conditions causing significant pain and disability. The underlying pain pathologies lack consensus with evidence suggesting reduced pressure pain thresholds (PPTs) in adolescent females with PFP and individuals with knee osteoarthritis. A paucity of evidence exists for mixed-sex adults with PFP and PFJOA in isolation. Exploring if pain sensitisation is a dominant feature of PFP and PFJOA may have important implications for the delivery of a patient centred management approach. The primary aim was to measure local and remote PPTs in PFP and PFJOA patients compared to matched controls. Secondary aims were to evaluate the relationship between PPTs and (1) condition severity and (2) knee function.


13 PFP patients plus 20 matched controls and 15 PFJOA patients plus 34 matched controls were recruited from a UK mixed-sex adult population. Controls were matched on age, sex and activity level. Demographic details, Tegner activity level score, symptom duration, condition severity (Kujala and KOOS-PF scores for PFP and PFJOA, respectively) and knee function (Modified Whatman score rating of five single leg squats) were recorded. PPTs were measured at six sites: five local around the knee, one remote on the contralateral leg. Between-group differences were tested using a two-way mixed model analysis of variance with repeated measures. Strength of association between PPTs and condition severity and knee function were tested using Spearman’s rank order correlation.


No statistically significant difference in PPTs were observed between the PFP patients [F(1,31) = 0.687, p = 0.413, η2 = 0.022] or PFJOA patients [F(1,47) = 0.237, p = 0.629, η2 = 0.005] and controls. Furthermore, no correlation was found between PPTs and condition severity or knee function in PFP or PFJOA (p > 0.05).


Results suggest mechanical pain sensitisation is not a dominant feature of UK mixed-sex adults with PFP or PFJOA.


PFP and PFJOA remain persistent pain complaints which may not be well explained by objective measures of sensitivity such as PPTs. The findings suggest that peripheral pain processing changes leading to pain sensitisation is not a key feature in PFP or PFJOA. Instead the underlying pain pathway is likely to remain primary nociceptive, possibly with a subgroup of patients who experience pain sensitisation and might benefit from a more targeted management approach.

Corresponding author: Simon Lack, PhD, Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine, William Harvey Research Institute, Bart’s and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Hospital, Bancroft Road, London E1 4DG, UK

  1. Authors’ statements

  2. Research funding: No funding.

  3. Conflict of interest: No conflicts of interest.

  4. Informed consent: Informed consent has been obtained from all included participants.

  5. Ethical approval: The research related to human use complies with all the relevant national regulations, institutional policies and was performed in accordance the Helsinki Declaration with ethical approval gained from the Queen Mary University Research Ethics Committee (QMREC2014/24/105).


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Received: 2019-02-10
Accepted: 2019-03-25
Published Online: 2019-06-12
Published in Print: 2019-10-25

©2019 Scandinavian Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston. All rights reserved.

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