Runners knee, a term that can refer to any pain centered around your kneecap, is something no runner wants. It’s a preventable injury that can end up sidelining a great season or a solid training plan for a while if not properly dealt with. Here you’ll learn what runners knee can be, how to treat it and how to prevent it.
What: Runner’s knee is a broad term to describe discomfort around the kneecap that can come from several different sources. Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, it is common in both new and experienced runners.
- Overuse: Suddenly increasing training load in a high impact sport such as running can lead to overstretched tendons and irritation of the kneecap joint.
- Foot Problems: Fallen arches, overpronation or hypermobile foot joints can all cause runner’s knee.
- Muscle imbalances and malalignment: Weaker muscles in the thigh lead to uneven loads on knees that create abnormal wear and tear on the joint as the knee collapses inward with each footfall. Bones that are out of alignment will cause similar abnormal damage as stress is unevenly distributed through the skeletal system.
- Poor running mechanics: Running form errors such as over striding/heel striking, toe running and poor posture can all cause irregular wear and tear on the patellofemoral joint.
Symptoms: Symptoms of runners knee include pain around or behind the kneecap along with swelling and popping/grinding feelings. Clues are pain when the knee is bent during walking, running, jogging and squatting that gets worse going downhill or a flight of stairs.
Treatment: There are a wide variety of options available to help treat runner’s knee.
- Rest: Take some time off from high impact activities and avoid putting weight on the hurting knee. Try cycling or swimming to maintain cardiovascular endurance.
- Compression: Use compression sleeves, pants, elastic bandages or patellar straps to give the knee extra support during the healing process. Avoid these while exercising because they mask the real issue and can lead to more damage.
- Strength and mobility work: Study a tape of yourself running and work with a qualified coach or physical therapist. Work to eliminate muscle imbalances and running form errors that created the initial irritation.
Recovery: Once you are able to get back in action after recovering from runner’s knee, fix what caused the problem. Balance muscles and improve mobility by regularly performing exercises for the hips, core, legs and feet. Wear appropriate shoes with enough support for your foot while avoiding doing all of your running on very hard surfaces like concrete and avoid making sudden dramatic increases in training load.