The psychological features of patellofemoral pain: a cross-sectional study

Liam Maclachlan, Mark Matthews, Paul Hodges, Natalie Collins, Bill Vicenzino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


Background and aims:Patellofemoral pain (PFP) is a prevalent and debilitating musculoskeletal condition, considered to have a mechanical aetiology. As such, the physical impairments associated with PFP are well documented and have helped characterise different physical phenotypes. But little is known about the relationship between PFP and psychological well-being. In this study, we aimed to: (1) compare psychological profiles between groups with and without PFP; (2) compare psychological profiles and condition severity between PFP subgroups; and (3) explore relationships between psychological factors and their contribution to disability. We expected to find higher levels of psychological impairment, especially kinesiophobia and catastrophizing in the PFP group. We also expected to identify a sub-group for who worsening levels of disability correspond with worsening psychological well-being.Methods:One hundred participants with PFP (72 females, mean±SD age 27±5 years, BMI 25.3±4.8 kg/m2) completed measures of pain, disability, and psychological features (kinesiophobia, catastrophizing, anxiety and depression). Fifty controls, matched by sex, age and activity level (36 females, age 27±5 years, BMI 22.9±4.5 kg/m2) also completed psychological measures. The Knee injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS) was used to cluster PFP participants (K-means cluster analysis) into more and less severe sub-groups. Differences between the control and PFP groups were analysed using t-tests, analysis of variance, Mann-Whitney U-tests or χ2 tests as appropriate (p<0.05). Pearson correlations were used to explore relationships between psychological measures. Backward stepwise regression (p out >0.05) evaluated how the psychological factors potentially relate to disability.Results:Psychological features did not differ between PFP and pain-free groups. But differences were apparent when the PFP cohort was subgrouped. Compared to controls, the more-severe group had significantly higher levels of depression (MD 1.8, 95% CI 0.8–2.8; p≤0.001) and catastrophizing (MD 5.7, 95% CI 2.4–9; p≤0.001). When compared to less-severe cases, the more-severe group also demonstrated significantly higher levels of kinesiophobia (MD 4.3, 95% CI 2.1–6.5; p≤0.001), depression (MD 1.5 95% CI 0.5–2.6; p=0.01) and catastrophizing (MD 4.9, 95% CI 1–8.8; p=0.01). The weakest relationship between psychological factors was found between kinesiophobia and anxiety (r=0.29; p=0.02). While the strongest relationship existed between depression and anxiety (r=0.52; p≤0.001). Both kinesiophobia (β −0.27, 95% CI −0.265 to −0.274) and depression (β −0.22, 95% CI −0.211 to −0.228) were associated with disability as defined by the KOOS in the regression model (R2=0.17, p≤0.001).Conclusions:Those with more-severe PFP-related disability have higher levels of psychological impairment than less-severe cases. Kinesiophobia seems to stand as an important factor in the experience of PFP, because it was elevated in the PFP group, significantly differed between the PFP sub-groups and contributed to explaining disability. Contrary to our hypothesis, levels of catastrophizing in the PFP group and severe sub-group were low and seemingly not important.Implications:These findings draw attention to psychological factors to which clinicians assessing PFP should show vigilance. They also highlight psychological impairments that might be worthwhile targets in optimising PFP management.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-271
Number of pages10
JournalScandinavian Journal of Pain
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Mar 2018


  • disability
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • kinesiophobia
  • catastrophizing
  • subgrouping


Dive into the research topics of 'The psychological features of patellofemoral pain: a cross-sectional study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this