What Is Runner’s Knee? Causes, And How To Treat & Prevent It
Sometimes you wonder why your knees hurt so badly. You may likely have patellofemoral pain syndrome, commonly called runner’s knee.
If you have pains in or around your kneecap, you are certainly not alone. Runner’s knee is one of the most common knee problems among runners and other athletes.
But what is runner’s knee exactly? What’s the cause, and is there a solution?
In this article, we take a closer look at the problem, the possible causes, and the symptoms.
We’ll also share some tips on how to take care of the problem and prevent a future reoccurrence.
What is Runner’s Knee?
Runner’s knee isn’t actually the name of a specific injury. Instead, it is a broad term referring to several conditions that can lead to severe pain around the patella or kneecap.
Typically, a dull but relentless ache is felt inside or around the kneecap.
It is often accompanied by a sensation of grinding, rubbing, or clicking just under the kneecap where the lower end of the femur (thigh bone) is connected with the knee.
Here’s the thing about runner’s knee. You don’t have to be a runner to develop the problem.
Regardless of what the name might suggest, just about anyone can suffer from this severe kneecap pain.
However, it is rather common with people who engage in activities that repeatedly stress the knee joint.
In other words, you can get a runner’s knee from playing soccer, jumping, skiing, cycling, biking, or even walking.
What Causes Runner’s Knee?
Patellofemoral pain syndrome is commonly caused by torn or worn cartilage in the knee.
You might also start to experience the pain if the soft tissues of your knee are irritated or the tendons become strained.
Sometimes, the problem may be triggered by a structural defect in the way you run or walk. Some other common risk factors for runner’s knee include:
- Kneecap injury or trauma: Falls, direct blows to the kneecap, or accidents with impact on your knee can create inflammation or pain in that area.
- Kneecap misalignment: The femur forms a groove that supports the kneecap. The kneecap is essentially a floating bone that allows you to bend and straighten your knee.
You won’t feel any pain if this floating bone glides in the right direction. But if it moves in the wrong direction, it will cause friction that can bring about pain and inflammation.
Common reasons for kneecap misalignment include flat feet, overpronation, and hyper mobile feet.
- Overuse or excessive training: When you train excessively, the soft tissues in your knee joint may break down.
If you continue to train without giving yourself some time off to rest and recover, the tissues might become damaged and cause severe pain.
- Tight hamstrings: This is a condition that limits movement and causes stiffness. It is also a result of strenuous activities.
- Tight or weak thigh muscles: When you stretch or bend your knee joint, the quadriceps keeps your kneecap in place.
Unfortunately, your kneecap can’t stay in the correct position if these muscles are tight or weak. If this happens, you will feel pain around your kneecap.
What Are the Symptoms of Runner’s Knee?
The main symptom is pain – a dull ache in or around the kneecap.
This pain is especially noticeable when you engage in activities involving straightening or bending the knee. This can include:
- Sitting on or standing up from a chair
- Going up or down a flight of stairs
The symptoms are even more pronounced when you carry some weight while performing these activities.
In addition to all of these, a runner’s knee can also present other symptoms such as:
- The kneecap becomes very tender to the touch.
- You feel a grinding, clicking, or rubbing sound when moving, straightening, or bending the knee.
- You might feel your knee becoming unstable or weak after sitting for a long time, especially if the knees are bent.
How to Treat Runner’s Knee
Treatment often depends on how serious the symptoms present.
In any case, the age and general health condition of the individual are vital aspects to factor in when considering treatment options.
With proper treatment, the runner’s knee gets better with time for most people.
One of the quickest ways to get speedy recovery is to stop running or overusing the knee, at least, until you feel better.
But exercises should not be stopped altogether.
This is because part of the treatment often includes physical therapy or specific types of exercise to improve the knee’s range of motion and strength.
In most cases, though, recommended exercises are usually after you feel significant relief from the pain and when any swellings may have subsided considerably.
In severe cases of runner’s knee, surgery might be required to remove and replace damaged cartilage. And in extreme cases, the position of the kneecap might need to be corrected.
Thankfully, surgery for runner’s knee is rare.
Most often, the pain can be relieved with simple treatments such as:
- Rest: Staying away from activities that can cause repetitive stress on your knee. Always rest your knee if you notice pain.
- Ice: Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and pain. If you don’t have an ice pack, grab a package of frozen peas and keep it in the area.
Placing the ice pack or package of frozen peas on your kneecap or the region where you feel the pain for up to 30 minutes can bring about relief.
Also, remember to keep the knee away from heat sources.
- Compression: To restrict swelling, wrap your knee in an elastic bandage. You don’t want to wrap the knee too tightly, though, as that can also cause swelling.
- Elevation: If you feel pain in your knee, elevate it when laying down or sitting. You can do this by placing a pillow under your knee. This will prevent further swelling.
Other physical therapy and treatment for runner’s knee may include:
- Knee bracing
- Stretching exercises
- Strengthening exercises
- Medicines such as ibuprofen
- Shoe inserts (orthotics)
- Patellofemoral taping
How to Prevent Runner’s Knee
Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is runner’s knee?” and know some of the possible causes, and even how to treat it, let’s look at a few quick tips to prevent the issue.
Stay in Shape
Make sure you are in good health condition whether or not you are an athlete. Speak with your doctor about a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
For women, it is important to maintain a good weight because their wider hips and knee alignment increases their chances of developing runner’s knee.
Make sure you spend some time warming up your legs before running. You can start with jumping jacks, jogging on the spot, skipping, or other forms of light repetitive movements.
Gradual Changes in Workout Activities
Always make gradual changes to the intensity of your workout routines. Abrupt changes can lead to injury or too much stress on your joints, particularly the knee.
For example, spend some time planning your speed and route before going for a run.
This will help you stay within your plan instead of running 15 miles when are only used to putting in 10 miles.
Also, it is important to include rest days in your workout plans. This will allow your body to rest and fully recover before your next training session.
Proper Running Form
You are at higher risk of a runner’s knee if you are a runner or an athlete.
Contrary to common belief, running isn’t intuitive, especially for adults. Your bones and muscles are not the same as when you were a toddler and didn’t care about proper running form.
For this reason, it is important to pay particular attention to how you run and all the parts of your body involved in the complex movement.
Make sure there are no dysfunctional muscles, joints, or parts that can cause an injury during the activity.
Keep your core tight and make sure you don’t lean too forward or backward when you run. It is always a good idea to run in a zigzag pattern when you run or walk down a steep incline.
Runner’s knee is a common problem that can happen with just about anyone.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a runner; as long as you overuse or put too much stress on your knee, you are at risk of patellofemoral pain syndrome.
Thankfully, it can be easily addressed and managed in most cases.
Keep in mind that some symptoms of runner’s knee might look like other health problems and conditions.
This is why it is always a good idea to talk with your doctor for proper diagnosis once you feel pain in or around your knee.