What is Runner’s Knee and How is It Treated?

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly known as runner’s knee, earned its nickname because the condition is quite common among people who run regularly or competitively. The stress your body undergoes while running sometimes causes irritation where your kneecap, medically known as the patella, rests against your thighbone. Some people experience sudden, sharp pain with runner’s knee while others struggle with chronic pain that presents as more of a dull ache. It can occur only when you’re running, after a run, or persistently.

Common Causes of Runner’s Knee

In some cases, the cause of runner’s knee is purely biochemical, meaning your patella is smaller on the inside than it is on the outside. It could also sit too high on the groove of the femoral bone, causing it to dislocate easily. Other times, pain occurs because the runner has tight hamstrings and poorly coordinated quadriceps. This is a problem because weak quadriceps can’t support your kneecap properly and causes it to come out of alignment. When your hamstrings aren’t as flexible as it could be, it puts pressure on your kneecaps that leads to sudden or chronic pain.

It reduces shock absorption when you have worn cartilage in the joints of your knee. This obviously causes pain the more worn your cartilage becomes. Other common causes of runner’s knee include having abnormally flat feet or a high arch and knees that turn outwards when you run.

How to Know if You Have Runner’s Knee

The British Journal of Sports Medicinestates that young people develop runner’s knee more often than older people and that it is twice as common in women than men. One theory for the gender difference is that women have wider hips, which causes a more pronounced angle between the knee and thighbone and puts more stress on the knee.

Pain behind or around your kneecap is often the first indication of runner’s knee. It usually starts in the center of your kneecap. You may feel a sensation of your knee giving out or hear a cracking sound. Running on uneven surfaces, hills, or steps tend to make the problem worse.

Treatment of Runner’s Knee

It’s important to rest your knee as soon as you suspect that you have runner’s knee. Stop running for a time and avoid other activities that place stress on your knee. Some other things you can do include:

  • Wear a supportive brace
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers as the instructions direct
  • Modify your exercise routine if you do not want to temporarily stop it so you don’t stress your knees
  • Get into the habit of placing an ice compress on your knee after exercise
  • Tape a bandage over your kneecap before you start running

If these remedies don’t decrease your pain after a few days, schedule an appointment at the Bruce Carter United Orthopaedic and Spine Center for an immediate evaluation. One of our orthopedists will examine your knee for signs of swelling and tenderness. He or she will also ask you to extend or flex your leg to see if this aggravates pain in your kneecap. Your provider may order an MRI, CT scan, X-ray, or another diagnostic test to confirm the diagnosis and rule out anything more serious.

The most common options for treating runner’s knee include receiving regular cortisone injections, taking prescription medication, and/or going through physical therapy. Surgery to remove pieces of your damaged kneecap is a last resort when everything else has failed. In severe cases, your surgeon may need to realign your kneecap.

Tips to Prevent Runner’s Knee

You may not be able to prevent this condition entirely if you run a lot, but you can take steps to reduce your risk of developing it. These include:

  • Warm up before each run by stretching and jogging at a slow pace
  • Wear a knee brace when running or jumping
  • Invest in a pair of running shoes with good shock absorption
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • If you need to lose weight, exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week, reduce your intake of fat and sugar, and eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

The outlook for recovering from runner’s knee is good, even if you need surgery. By following your doctor’s advice, you should be able to eliminate pain and return to normal activities in a short time.


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