What is runner’s knee?
There are two common misconceptions about the condition known as runner’s knee. The first is that it only happens to runners, and the second is that it’s a specific injury in and of itself. Runner’s knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, is actually a broad term that covers a spectrum of knee injuries that cause pain around the front of your knee, or kneecap.
While runner’s knee is common in runners (hence the name), it can affect anyone who does things that require lots of knee bending, like walking, biking or jumping. The resulting pain can be chronic and achy or sudden and sharp, and it can come and go depending on whether you’re running or resting.
How do I know if I have runner’s knee?
If you have runner’s knee, you’ll likely feel tenderness or pain in front of, behind or around your kneecap, usually toward the center. It’ll hurt when you bend your knee walking, squatting, kneeling, running, going up or down stairs or getting up from a chair. You might also notice swelling around your knee, and a popping or grinding feeling inside the joint.
Runner’s knee can affect one or both of your knees. It’s most common in young recreational runners, and is twice as common in women as men. This is because women tend to have wider hips and thus a greater angling of the thighbone to the knee, putting more stress on the kneecap.
If you want a professional opinion, a doctor can diagnose the cause of your pain using a physical exam, and possibly tests that allow her or him to look inside your joint, like X-rays, MRIs or CT scans.
What causes runner’s knee?
Many cases of runner’s knee are caused by issues like an uneven, improperly placed or easily dislocated patella. But most of the time, poorly conditioned quadriceps and tight hamstrings are to blame. If you have weak quadriceps, they can’t support your patella, which then knocks out of alignment. If your hamstrings aren’t flexible, the perfect storm occurs, putting undue pressure on your knee, injuring it over time. Worn cartilage in your knee can reduce shock absorption, high-arched feet can provide insufficient cushioning, and flat feet or knees that turn in or out too much can pull the patella sideways.
However, runner’s knee can also be singularly caused by the repetitive force of a normal running stride. Other causes include:
- Overuse. Regular bending or high-stress exercising can wear down your knee joint.
- A direct hit to your knee, like from a fall or blow.
- Malalignment, or bones that don’t line up properly. If any bones between your hips and ankles aren’t aligned like they should be, it can put pressure on your kneecap, causing pain.
- Hypermobile feet, flat feet and overpronated feet can affect how you walk, causing knee pain.
How to treat runner’s knee
Most of the time, runner’s knee heals on its own over time. To speed up your healing, you can do the following things:
- Rest your knee. Avoid activities that aggravate your pain, like running, squatting, lunging, or sitting or standing for long periods of time.
- Ice your knee for 20 to 30 minutes every three to four hours for two or three days to reduce pain and swelling.
- Wrap your knee with an elastic bandage, patellar straps or sleeves.
- Elevate your leg on a pillow when you’re resting.
- Take anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen.
- Stretch and strengthen your muscles.
- Use arch supports or orthotics for your shoes.
Some cases of runner’s knee might need surgery. Your doctor may suggest a knee arthroscopy to diagnose and treat the issue. The surgeon will use a camera and tiny tools to diagnose your condition and remove or replace damaged cartilage. If necessary, they can correct the position of the kneecap causing it to send stress throughout the joint more evenly.
You can prevent runner’s knee by running on soft surfaces and never increasing your mileage by more than 10 percent a week. Check out a specialty running shop to have your feet analyzed and paired with the proper shoes for your foot type and gait. Keep your quadriceps strong, and stretch your hamstrings and calves to avoid overpronation.
If you start to notice pain in your knee, cut back on your mileage immediately and avoid all knee-bending activities and slopes. As you work back up to your original mileage, use a smaller stride on hills and try new shoes or orthotics.
Learn more about treating your runner’s knee
If you think you may have runner’s knee and would like to learn more about your treatment options, schedule an evaluation with Onward Orthopedics today. Simply submit an online form or call one of our friendly Patient Care Managers at 210.880.3823.