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Runner’s Knee: Symptoms, Causes & Available Treatments

Runner’s Knee: Symptoms, Causes & Available Treatments

    Runner's knee is a common overuse injury. This means that it occurs as a result of repetitive use. It results from excessive strain placed on the patellofemoral joint - it's a joint that connects the kneecap to the thigh bone. This condition is also known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS).

    Table of Contents

    What are the symptoms of runner’s knee?

    Runner's knee affects women more often because women have different hip-width and thigh length proportions than men, which can put additional strain on the knee joint when exercising. 

    running match

    The condition manifests as pain behind the kneecap that worsens with activity and eases with rest. 

    The symptoms of a runner’s knee may include: 

    • A popping sensation when rising after a prolonged sitting period, such as when getting out of bed in the morning or from a chair at work
    • Sudden knee pain during or after strenuous activity
    • Discomfort behind the kneecap worsens with activity and eases with rest
    • Grating or grinding sensation when moving the knee joint

      Runner's knee may be accompanied by swelling and stiffness, particularly in older people. It can be extremely painful if it is not treated effectively.  It can also lead to a more serious condition such as osteoarthritis (which occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bone wears down).

      What are the causes of runner’s knee? 

      Some of the risk factors for runner's knee are: 

      • Poor alignment of bones.If your bones are not properly lined up spanning from your hips to your ankles, this causes increased pressure on certain areas including the patella. If the kneecap doesn’t move smoothly through its groove, it can cause pain.
      • Overuse. Doing high-stress activities like lunges or running may irritate the tissues in your knee cap. 
      • Obesity. Having the extra weight on may put pressure and stress on your knees. 
      • Feet problems. Having certain feet problems like flat feet, overpronation, and having hypermobile feet may change the way you walk that can lead to knee pain. 
      • Weak thighs. If you have weak thigh muscles (which are responsible for keeping your kneecap in place) or they're tight, your kneecap won’t stay in the right spot.

      runners knee symptoms

      Runner's knee is a common problem for those who participate in sports that involve running and jumping. Some examples are basketball and volleyball. It is also prevalent among athletes whose sports require frequent kneeling or squatting, such as kayakers and football linemen.

      PFPS can occur in anyone who spends long periods on their feet. Although, it may affect athletes more often because they put more stress on their knees. It is not limited to adults; children can also experience this condition

      Runner's knee was first documented during the Industrial Revolution. During that time, workers stood in the same position the whole day on hard floors with poor posture. 

      Additionally, people who are overweight have a higher risk of developing a runner's knee. 

      Runner's Knee Treatment

      There are multiple treatment options for the runner's knee. Treatment will focus on reducing symptoms and improving function through:

      • Rest until it feels better
      • Anti-inflammatories including ibuprofen or naproxen
      • Applying ice or cold packs on the area
      • Physical therapy exercises
      • Strengthening and stretching exercises
      • Taping with kinesiology tape
      • Quadriceps strengthening ballistic exercises
      • Better running form (to avoid pain at top of foot strike)

      If the runner's knee does not go away with these treatments, surgery can be done to remove the fat pad around the patella tendon beneath the knees (viscosupplementation).

      Kinesiology Taping for Runner’s Knee

      Kinesiology taping has become more and more popular over the years to help medical professionals treat their patients. If you’re new to it, you can read all about thebasics of kinesiology taping in our blog. You can also learn all its benefits here

      Done reading? Let’s get taping! 

      1. Measure out your tape by lacing it right below your knee bone. Cut it to the right length and don’t forget to round your edges. 
      2. Next, extend the knee and make sure that it stays relaxed. Take your tape and put 100% tension to the middle of the tape. Apply the tape with 0% tension on the ends. 
      3. Rub in the tape to activate the adhesive. 

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      Is it okay to run with a runner's knee?

      Yes, you can still run if you have runner's knee, BUT you should go about it with less intensity. You should avoid long runs and avoid upping your speed. 

      However, if you’re experiencing intense pain, we suggest stopping altogether and resting for a period. Should you still want to move without aggravating your condition, you can try low-impact exercises including cardio. This will help promote healing by increasing blood flow to the muscles. It will also help prepare your body to go back to running.

      running

      We want to note that we are not medical experts. We highly advise you to visit a physician or a physical therapist and have your condition evaluated by a specialist to get the best course of action. 

      What is the difference between a runner’s knee and a torn meniscus?

      Runner’s knee pain is felt in the front part or outside part of the knee (iliotibial band crosses the joint line) and pain develops after running. A meniscus tear, on the other hand, causes pain at the joint line. The pain is also felt at the back of the knee when squatting down. 

      What is the difference between a runner’s knee and a jumper’s knee?

      Runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome) happens when the kneecap swerves away from the patellar groove. Jumper’s knee (patellar tendonitis), on the other hand, occurs when the tendon that connects the shinbone to the kneecap becomes inflamed. 

      jumper's knee vs runners knee

      What exercise is good for a runners' knee?

      If you have a runner's knee, you can do strengthening exercises that promote stability in the knee, hips, and quadriceps. These exercises will help keep your knee stable when running. Additionally, they can also reduce tightness and promote flexibility in the leg. 

      Here are some exercises that you can engage in to help with a runner’s knee: 

      Straight Leg Raises

      Target areas: Quads and Hips
      1. Lie on your back. Keep one leg at a 90-degree angle and keep the other leg straight out on the floor. 
      2. With the extended leg, engage your thigh muscles (quads) and raise the leg until it's at a 45-degree angle. Hold the leg up for about 2 seconds before lowering it to the ground. 
      3. Repeat this 15 times and switch to the other leg. Perform 2-3 sets for each leg. 

      Clamshell

      Target areas: Hips and Glutes
      1. Lie on your side, bend your knees, and stack your legs and knees on top of one another. 
      2. While keeping your heels together, open your top leg toward the ceiling, forming a clam shape. Hold the position for 2 seconds, then slowly lower your leg. 
      3. Repeat this 15 times and switch to the other side. Perform 2-3 sets for each side. 

      Wall Slide

      Target areas: Quads, Glutes, and Calves
      1. Stand with your back against a wall. Keep your feet a shoulder-width apart and your heels should be 6 inches in front of your hips. 
      2. Slowly slide your back and hips down the wall until your knees are bent at a 45-degree angle. 
      3. Hold the position for 5 seconds before standing back up.
      4. Repeat this 15 times and perform 2-3 sets. 

      Donkey Kicks 

      Target areas: Glutes
      1. Position yourself on all fours on the floor. To protect your knees and hands, make sure that you have a yoga mat, blanket, or towel for cushioning. Keep your hands straight and keep them under your shoulders, your knees under your hips, and your wrists under your shoulders.
      2. Start with one leg and slowly lift and extend it behind you. Keep your foot flexed as you raise it to about hip height. 
      3. Make sure to keep your back flat as you press your heel toward the ceiling for a second. Then, lower it back down. 
      4. Repeat 10 times per leg. Perform 2 sets for each leg. 

      Hamstring Stretch 

      Target areas: Hamstrings 
      1. Lie on your leg and extend one leg in front of you. 
      2. With your other leg, slightly bend it. Wrap your hands behind the thigh and slowly begin to pull the leg towards you while feeling the stretch in the back of the thigh.
      3. Pull the leg as close to you as you possibly can, keep it straight, and with the heel flexed toward the ceiling. 
      4. Hold the position for 30 seconds before switching to the other leg. 
      5. Perform 3 times for each leg.

      How do you prevent a runner’s knee? 

      Runner’s knee is painful and can put a damper on your active lifestyle. Here are some ways that you can prevent it from developing in the first place: 

      exercises for runners knee

      • Keep a healthy weight. Maintain a healthy weight to avoid future bouts with runner's knee.  Being overweight puts extra stress on your leg joints and bones which can lead to serious injuries in addition to runner's knees. When a runner's knee is at its worst, surgery may be required to fix it.
      • Stretch. Stretch your leg before and after running or doing any sort of activity involving the legs. This will help prevent the runner’s knee from coming back as quickly when it’s in remission. Work on stretching your calves, hamstrings, and quads in particular. Always stretch both sides equally so one side doesn't become more flexible than the other and lead the runner's knee to return.
      • Have good running shoes. Changing shoes regularly as a runner's knee can be caused – or worsened – by heavy usage of a single pair of shoes. If the runner's knee continues despite changes in shoewear, take a break from running and consult a physician. The injury may require physical therapy or other treatment options.
      • Slowly increase your training intensity. Minimize sudden changes in direction while running because this can put extra stress on the knees that can lead to knee pain. Follow through with proper form when running downhill by leaning forward slightly rather than overstraining the knee. Don't forget to stretch if you are going to be running uphill or downhill because a runner's knee pain can come back rather quickly if you don’t stretch properly. 
      • Strengthen your leg muscles. Strengthening the muscles around the knee joint will support the runner's knee when running or doing any physical activities that require pushing off with your legs. Specifically strengthening the hamstring, glutes, and quadriceps muscles will help prevent runner's knees. Stronger hip flexors also help with the condition because they hold your leg forward in a running position instead of collapsing in towards the other leg which puts more stress on the knee.

      Conclusion

      As you can see, runner's knee is a common and often debilitating condition. Knowing the symptoms and causes of this ailment will help you to avoid it in the future or know when to seek professional treatment. 

      With these tips on how to prevent runner's knee, we hope that we've helped! If not, don't worry--we're always here for you with articles like this one that provide information about what solutions exist should your pain continue. You can evencheck out our blog for more helpful tips! 

      Remember that there are many helpful treatments available such askinesiology taping protocols and exercises which can be done at home. 

      If you are dealing with chronic pain from this injury then it is time to consult a medical professional such as a physical therapist who will be able to prescribe an appropriate treatment plan that may include kinesiology taping as we discussed above. 

      We hope these tips helped!


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