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  • New Clinical Guidelines Find Strong Evidence Supporting Exercise Therapy for Knee Pain

    In this review: Patellofemoral Pain: Clinical Practice Guidelines Linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health From the Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy of the American Physical Therapy Association
    (The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, September 2019)

    The message    
    It's all about movement: In its first-ever comprehensive clinical practice guideline (CPG) on patellofemoral pain (PFP), APTA's Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy (Academy) lays out a set of recommendations that stress exercise therapy as the best approach to improve functional performance in the short, medium, and long term. But that's just 1 facet of the guidelines, which also include recommendations on diagnosis, classification, and examination.

    The study
    A panel of content experts from the Academy conducted an extensive review of scientific articles associated with PFP from 1960 to 2018, evaluating each for its evidence related to physical therapist (PT) clinical decision-making around the condition. From an initial field of 4,691 articles, reviewers winnowed the studies down to 271 that addressed diagnosis and classification (120), examination (56), and interventions (95). The panel then analyzed the overall strength of evidence, and shared a draft of its recommendations with members of the Academy and, later, with a panel of consumer representatives and other stakeholders that included claims reviewers, coding experts, researchers, and academic and clinical educators.

    Recommendations were assigned letters according to the strength of the evidence evaluated: A-"strong," B-"moderate," C-"weak," D-"conflicting," E-"theroretical/foundational," and F-"expert opinion."  

    Among the Recommendations
    Recommendations within the following CPG categories include:

    • Interventions. CPG authors found strong evidence supporting exercise therapy with combined hip- and knee-targeted exercises to reduce pain and improve outcomes, stressing that a combination of hip and knee exercises is better than a focus on knee exercises alone.
      The guidelines also find strong evidence that dry needling shouldn't be used for PFP, and moderate evidence that clinicians should stay away from the use of "biophysical agents" including ultrasound, cryotherapy, electrical stimulation, and laser treatments.
      Taping was supported by moderate-level evidence. The guidelines state that clinicians should combine physical therapist interventions such as foot orthoses, taping, mobilizations, and stretching when appropriate, but that "exercise therapy is the critical component and should be the focus in any combined intervention approach."
    • Diagnosis. Use of diagnostic tests that reproduce retropatellar or peripatellar pain during squatting received an A-level recommendation as a diagnostic tool, as did "performance or other function activities that load the patellofemoral joint in a flexed position, such as stair climbing or descent."
    • Examination. Strong evidence supports the Anterior Knee Pain Scale, the patellofemoral pain and osteoarthritis sub¬scale of the Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (KOOS-PF), and the visual analog scale (VAS) for activity or the Eng and Pierrynowski Questionnaire (EPQ) as ways to measure pain and function. Moderate-level evidence supports the use of "clinical or field tests" that reproduce pain and allow for assessment of movement. Authors write that "these tests can assess a patient's baseline status relative to pain, function, and disability; global knee function; and changes in status throughout the course of treatment."
    • Classification. The guideline panel found no "previously established valid classification system" for PFP, so it developed one. The system is based on impairment and function-based categories that include overuse/overload, muscle performance deficits, movement coordination deficits, and mobility impairments.


    Why the CPG Matters
    PFP is estimated to affect 1 in 4 adults every year, with women reporting knee pain twice as often as men do. Authors of the CPG write that while the recommendations shouldn't be considered a standard of care that guarantees a successful outcome for every patient, they are a reflection of the best-available evidence around the condition. They add that "significant departures" from the CPG "should be documented in the patient's medical records."

    APTA's Role
    The association provided funding and technical support during development of the CPG. This support is part of an ongoing APTA initiative to work with its sections and academies to produce a range of guidelines that highlight the evidence base for physical therapy in treatment of a variety of conditions. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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