Runner’s Knee – all you need to know

Do you feel any pain behind or around your kneecap? When bending your knee to squat, kneel, run, or when walking downstairs or downhill?

Runners hit the ground with anything between 5 and 9 times their body weight on each stride! So it’s not surprising your knees & ITBs (Iliotibial band) can start to feel some pain…. the cumulative effect of each & every step in training and racing is immense.

Patello-femoral pain syndrome (PFPS) is also known as “Runner’s Knee” which occurs when the stress of running causes an irritation where the kneecap (patella) sits on the thigh bone (femur). The common causes of Runner’s Knee include:

  • overuse due to repeated bending and loading to the knee joint
  • direct trauma e.g. a fall, misalignment of the kneecap
  • a muscular imbalance of the thigh muscles which can lead to a disproportionate load on the kneecap, often due to an ITB injury

An ITB injury could be caused by a mobility issue, strength, control or simple technique fault.

Figuring out which of these factors is causing the pain will help on the road to recovery.

How to fix it

In the initial stages of pain it is important to rest the knee for a few days, with elevation, compression and regular application of ice if the knee is swollen. Taking anti-inflammatory medication may also be required if the pain and swelling is moderate to severe.

Exercises recommended for runner’s knee include:

  • use of a foam roller to release the ITB, quads, hip flexors and gluteal muscles,
  • hip flexor and gluteal strengthening exercises for the gluteal muscles in a non-weight bearing position initially, with progression into standing exercises.

If pain persists with return to running after 5-10 days, it is recommended to consult your doctor, an Orthopaedic specialist or a Physiotherapist for further guidance or treatment.

Prevention is key

50% of running injuries are recurrences, so do not ignore sore spots – for example in the front or outside of your knee, front or inside of your shin, around your Achilles tendon.

Although it can be frustrating, take the time to allow for the soft tissue healing process by resting and icing the area for a day or two. If this isn’t enough to ease pain continue to rest and try some light rehab for example cross training to maintain fitness, foam rolling areas above and below sore spot and taping if necessary. A running assessment may also be beneficial to identify any problems with running technique which may be affecting you biomechanics.

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