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Runner’s Knee 101

Yes, it is true… runner’s knee is most often caused from running…and other sports or exercise related activity. Medically referred to as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), this condition in marked by pain in the front of the knee and/or around the knee cap (patella). The pain can ebb and flow – sometimes sharp, other times dull. It may go away while running or engaging in exercise, only to come back afterward. Most commonly occurring in active females and young adults, the overall pain can make it hard to engage in everyday activities, such as going up and down the stairs and/or bending down. But all is not lost… and the good news is that more often than not you won’t require knee surgery to get better. 

What Causes Runner’s Knee?

Running, right? Most likely, the answer is yes. Runner’s knee is most often caused by overuse… meaning repeated physical activity that puts stress on the knee. Think running, squatting and jumping. A sudden change in your workout routine could also be the culprit. Maybe you started going to your bootcamp class 5 days a week instead of your normal three. Or perhaps you bumped up your long run to prepare for that marathon. We also see runner’s knee occur because of improper training form or technique. And believe it or not, it could even be those new tennis shoes you just bought.

Your runner’s knee could also be a case of biomechanics. Your patella may be larger on the outside than the inside or it may sit differently in the femoral groove. Weak quadriceps can also cause problems with the kneecap tracking within the femoral groove.

How do You Treat Runner’s Knee?

  • Change up your activity. Engage in low-impact activities until your pain subsides. Biking and swimming are great low-impact options.
  • Engage in physical therapy exercises to help maximize your recovery. Check out my short video that provides simple exercises you can do at home.
  • Ice your knee several times a day to help alleviate pain.
  • Elevate your knee as often as possible. Be sure to raise it higher than your heart.
  • NSAIDS, such as Aleve, Advil and Motrin can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Click here to see my guide to NSAID management.

Knee surgery for patellofemoral pain or runner’s knee is very rare and only done in severe cases. If you do require surgical treatment, your surgeon will likely perform knee arthroscopy, where a small camera is inserted into the knee joint to guide mini surgical instruments that can removed damaged cartilage from the patella or to correct a patellar malaligament.

How do you prevent runner’s knee?

  • Build and maintain the muscles around the knee, including the quadriceps and hamstrings. Leg extension exercises can significantly help strengthen these important areas.
  • Warm up before engaging in strenuous physical activity. Don’t go all out the moment you start.
  • Flexibility is key. Be sure to stretch before and after exercise. Also, consider incorporating yoga into your exercise regimen.
  • Wear appropriate shoes for the specific activity.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

For more information on runner’s knee, click here. And for exercises to help treat the condition, click here.


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