, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 51-67
Date: 20 Nov 2012

Evaluation and Treatment of Disorders of the Infrapatellar Fat Pad

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Abstract

The infrapatellar fat pad (IFP), also known as Hoffa’s fat pad, is an intracapsular, extrasynovial structure that fills the anterior knee compartment, and is richly vascularized and innervated. Its degree of innervation, the proportion of substance-P-containing fibres and close relationship to its posterior synovial lining implicates IFP pathologies as a source of infrapatellar knee pain. Though the precise function of the IFP is unknown, studies have shown that it may play a role in the biomechanics of the knee or act as a store for reparative cells after injury.

Inflammation and fibrosis within the IFP, caused by trauma and/or surgery can lead to a variety of arthrofibrotic lesions including Hoffa’s disease, anterior interval scarring and infrapatellar contracture syndrome. Lesions or mass-like abnormalities rarely occur within the IFP, but their classification can be narrowed down by radiographical appearance.

Clinically, patients with IFP pathology present with burning or aching infrapatellar anterior knee pain that can often be reproduced on physical exam with manoeuvres designed to produce impingement. Sagittal MRI is the most common imaging technique used to assess IFP pathology including fibrosis, inflammation, oedema, and mass-like lesions.

IFP pathology is often successfully managed with physical therapy. Passive taping is used to unload or shorten an inflamed IFP, and closed chain quadriceps exercises can improve lower limb control and patellar congruence. Training of the gluteus medius and stretching the anterior hip may help to decrease internal rotation of the hip and valgus force at the knee. Gait training and avoiding hyperextension can also be used for long-term management. Injections within the IFP of local anaesthetic plus corticosteroids and IFP ablation with ultrasound guided alcohol injections have been successfully explored as treatments for IFP pain.

IFP pathology refractory to physical therapy can be approached through a variety of operative treatments. Arthroscopic partial resection for IFP impingement and Hoffa’s disease has showed favourable results; however, total excision of the IFP performed concomitantly with total knee arthroplasty (TKA) resulted in worse results when compared with TKA alone. Arthroscopic debridement of IFP fibrosis has been successfully used to treat extension block following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction, and arthroscopic anterior interval release has been an effective treatment for pain associated with anterior interval scarring. Arthroscopic resection of infrapatellar plicae and denervation of the inferior pole of the patella have also been shown to be effective treatments for refractory infrapatellar pain.