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How to Tell if You Have Runner’s Knee – and How to Treat It

Runner’s knee – technically, patellofemoral pain syndrome – isn’t one specific condition, but rather, it’s an umbrella term that covers several knee problems. It describes common knee conditions that account for nearly half of all overuse injuries among runners. Here, we describe the symptoms and causes of runner’s knee, in addition to treatment options and prevention tips.

Table of contents:

What causes runner’s knee?

What are symptoms of runner’s knee?

How can runner’s knee be prevented?

How does a doctor diagnose runner’s knee?

How is runner's knee treated?

 Do I need surgery for runner’s knee?

 How can I stay active with runner’s knee?

How do I know when I’ve healed from runner’s knee?

What causes runner’s knee?

Runner’s knee has multiple causes, including:

  • Overuse. Bending your knee again and again or doing a lot of high-stress exercises, like lunges and plyometrics (training that uses the way your muscles lengthen and shorten to boost their power), can irritate tissues in and around your kneecap.
  • A direct hit to the knee, like from a fall or blow.
  • Your bones aren’t lined up (your doctor will call this malalignment). If any of the bones from your hips to your ankles are out of their correct position, including the kneecap, that can put too much pressure on certain spots. Then your kneecap won’t move smoothly through its groove, which can cause pain.
  • Problems with your feet, like hypermobile feet (when the joints in and around them move more than they should), fallen arches (flat feet), or overpronation (which means your foot rolls down and inward when you step). These often change the way you walk, which can lead to knee pain.
  • Weak or unbalanced thigh muscles. The quadriceps, those big muscles in the front of your thigh, keep your kneecap in place when you bend or stretch the joint. If they’re weak or tight, your kneecap may not stay in the right spot.
  • Chondromalacia patella, a condition in which the cartilage under your kneecap breaks down

What are symptoms of runner’s knee?

Pain is the main symptom of runner’s knee. You’ll probably feel the pain in front of your kneecap, although some people feel pain surrounding it or behind it. Your knee might feel tender to the touch. The pain increases when you bend your knee to sit, stand or walk downstairs. You might feel a grinding sensation in your knee or notice a clicking sound when it bends.

How can runner’s knee be prevented?

When exercising, keep a mindset of gradual growth to prevent runner’s knee. This means warming up to your exercise, taking enough time to stretch your muscles properly. This also means increasing your level of activity with incremental steps and not big leaps.

Maintaining a healthy weight and wearing good quality running shoes can also help you prevent runner’s knee. When you run, be aware of proper form as well: Be sure to run while leaning forward and bending your knees.

How does a doctor diagnose runner’s knee?

A doctor will evaluate your health history and perform a physical exam. In addition, the doctor may order x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes, a CT scan or MRI will be used as well. Your doctor will help you identify the cause of your knee pain, which will be crucial in developing the individualized treatment plan for you.

How is runner’s knee treated?

Your doctor will create a treatment plan that’s right for you, depending upon the cause of your knee pain, your age, level of pain and health history.

If you have runner’s knee, you’ll want to elevate and ice your knee (20 minutes at a time) to alleviate pain and swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen can help as well. You might also want to use a compression knee wrap or arch supports in your shoes for additional support.

You should also engage in hip, quadricep, and core strengthening to build up the muscles around the knee while avoiding any deep knee flexion.

Ask your doctor for recommended stretches that you can do to help your knee heal quickly. A physical therapist or a sports therapist can offer additional exercises to alleviate your pain and prevent future cases of runner’s knee.

Do I need surgery for runner’s knee?

Most often, runner’s knee can heal without surgery. In extreme cases, however, an orthopedic surgeon may need to repair or replace damaged cartilage or correct your kneecap’s positioning.

How can I stay active with runner’s knee?

As you heal, find ways to remain active while giving your knee a break. Consider replacing runs or high-impact activities with lower-impact activities such as swimming, which is gentler on your knees.

How do I know when I’ve healed from runner’s knee?

If you no longer experience pain when you jog, jump, bend or straighten your knee – and when the injured knee feels as strong as your uninjured knee – you’ll know you’re ready to return to your usual activities. Be sure to keep prevention tips in mind to avoid another injury in the future.

 

If you’d like to learn more about AnMed Health’s robotic knee implant placement or other treatments for runner’s knee, visit AnMed Health’s Orthopedic Surgery website or schedule an appointment online or by calling 864-716-6164.

 

 



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