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Runner's Knee: What is it and How to Treat it

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Runner’s Knee, or also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, is a common injury causing pain at the front of the knee, around or behind the kneecap. It is considered as an overuse injury rather than a traumatic injury. It gradually comes on and slowly worsens.

Although very common among runners, this condition can affect anyone. This injury is usually due to movements that load the knee joint on a flexed position. The good news: Runner’s Knee isn’t a structural problem, meaning your ligaments and cartilage are OK. The problem lies in the biomechanics, how your muscles function through the repeated movement of a run.

Most people recover from Runner’s Knee after a few months of rehab. It is important to treat this condition when you first start experiencing symptoms as it can become chronic.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common symptom is a dull, aching pain in the front of the knee. It originally begins gradually and its frequently activity-related. However, as the condition worsens you may experience pain constantly making everyday activities such as climbing stairs and walking harder.

You may also experience pain on the front of the knee after sitting for a long period of time with knees bent.

People also often describe creaking and cracking noises (crepitus) and knee stiffness. Minor swelling may be present in some cases; however, Runner’s Knee does not cause severe swelling or bruising.

Can I Run with Runner's Knee?

In short, no, you should give your knee a break to let it heal. While certain exercises seem to fire up your pain, it is not necessary to completely stop exercising. Low impact exercises such as biking or swimming can keep you from sacrificing your workouts altogether; while also helping you strengthen the muscles necessary for healing.

Physiotherapy treatment

A study released in 2016 showed that 73% of runners who completed a course of exercise rehabilitation remained pain-free three years after their initial injury. The most common culprit of this uncomfortable pain is muscle weakness around the legs and core.

Cause: Weak Hips and Inner Quads

Runners usually have strong hip flexors, however, their posterior hip muscles such as the Gluteus Medius tends to be weaker. This causes the femur to rotate inward, making the patella strike the edge of the femoral groove, causing pressure and pain.

It is also important to add exercises for the core and balance as deficits on core strength and engagement have proven to affect the biomechanics of running, leading to injuries.

To address this issue, your physiotherapist can develop a strengthening exercise program to target the weak areas. Exercises should be performed 2-3 times per week with a gradual progression in the difficulty.

Cause: Tight Hamstrings or Hips

While weak muscles can cause misalignment in running form, so can tight muscles. Usually, runners will have limited range of motion in their hamstrings, calves or hips.

The best way to avoid and treat muscle tightness is by working on overall flexibility. As your physiotherapist, we will be able to determine a stretching and foam rolling regimen to be followed every day and to be incorporated into your workout routine in the future.

Tips to Prevent Runner’s Knee

Here are some tips to prevent Runner's Knee:

  • Warming up thoroughly before physical activity

  • Incorporating stretching and flexibility exercises for the legs into your warm-up routine, and stretching after physical activity

  • Increase training gradually

  • Improving your running/exercise technique to offload the knee

  • Wear the right shoes to support your feet

If you are experiencing symptoms of Runner's Knee or would like a exercise regimen to prevent it, book a consultation with one of our physiotherapists here! Feel free to give us a call on (07) 3061 7128 if you have any questions.

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