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Runner's Knee: What It Is And How To Treat It

By Edited Jul 30, 2015 1 2

There are several conditions that can be classified as "Runner's Knee." Some are overuse injuries while others are alignment and bio-mechanical problems. Here is a look into some of the causes of runner's knee and what a runner can do to treat the condition and prevent the problem in the future.

Runner's knee is not unique to runners. This is a condition that can effect cyclists as well. Any type of activity that uses the knees, and potentially twists them in an unnatural way, can cause runner's knee.

Causes of Runner's Knee

Runner's knee is not a single medical problem. There are actually a couple of conditions that are called runner's knee. One is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). This is when there is an irritation, either through overuse or through poor joint alignment, that causes a pain in the knee. Another problem that is called runner's knee is chondromalacia. This is when there is a softening or wearing away of the cartilage under the knee cap. It causes an irritation and inflammation in the knee joint. Both of these cause irritation and inflammation.

Runner's knee is sometimes caused by overuse injuries. Typically this type of pain in the knee is non-specific and is caused by a nerve being pinched or rubbed. This pinching or rubbing can be irritation due to an injury or a breakdown in proper bio-mechanical form.

Poor alignment of the knee through the running stride, or especially during foot-strike and toe-off, can cause irritation. If the foot pronates too much causing the knee to twist or pinch one side strongly, the runner can experience pain. Underpronation usually does not cause runner's knee as commonly as overpronation.

A weak quadriceps muscle (the large muscle on the outside of the leg) can cause the knee to twist out of alignment. This is due to the inner muscles, the hamstrings, being commonly stronger in runners. The stronger muscles don't have an equal counter-force in the weaker quadriceps to keep the knee straight throughout the stride.

An injury can cause runner's knee. Any type of fall can cause inflammation in the knee causing pain.

Besides things a runner can do to bring an injury on themselves, there are times when the way the runner's body is designed causes knee pain. This can often be corrected by the same methods used to treat runner's knee caused by injury.

Recovering from Runner's Knee

One of the first things that should be done is the RICE treatment (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).

Rest – Taking a few days off of running is usually not what a runner wants to hear. Many times irritation and inflammation came on slowly, therefore, taking a few days off can allow the body to heal from the injury. This could be a week or longer if necessary.

Ice – Icing an injury shortly after it occurs is when it is most effective. After each run the runner can ice the knee, or knees, to prevent much of the swelling that occurs.

Compression – Wrapping the knee (sometimes with ice) after running, or when going about regular daily tasks, will help bring down the swelling. The knee may not look swollen outside, but there is almost always swelling inside the knee when pain is present.

Elevation – The runner should elevate the injury as much as possible throughout the day.

The suffering runner can take an anti-inflammatory, ibuprofen or aspirin, when they return from a run. They should consult a doctor before taking any kinds of medications though. Even over-the-counter medications can have a negative effect if the runner is taking prescription drugs. Anti-inflammatory medicines should be taken with food after a run and not before. This is so that they are not masking any serious pains or injuries that may occur during the run.

Along with some muscles being stronger than others which cause an unnatural pull on the knee, there is the possibility that the runner has one muscle tighter than another. Stretching after each run to make sure there are no tight muscles can help in the treatment and prevention of runner's knee.

Preventing Runner's Knee

One of the best preventions for runner's knee is that the runner has the proper shoes. A visit to the local running store can help a runner get fitted for shoes that will keep the knee stable during running. Proper shoes will keep the knee in alignment throughout the running stride. The runner should keep a running log of how many miles they have run in a particular pair of shoes. At some point all shoes break down. Knowing how many miles are on a pair will help the runner know that the cause of their knee pain could be their worn out shoes. By having a log, they can determine if it might be something else causing the pain.

Any type of exercise that strengthens the quadriceps will help prevent, or treat, runner's knee. These would include squats, leg raises, step-downs and swimming. The runner should avoid any exercises that puts strain on the knees. One simple exercise is to sit with both feet on the ground. Raise one foot straight out in front and point the toe left and right holding in each position. This is a low stress exercise that can strengthen the quadriceps and can be done any time the runner is in a seated position.

Downhill running can exacerbate the problem of runner's knee. Runners should avoid downhills and cambered roads when possible.

There is debate among runners about the "10% rule" and whether it can cause injuries like runner's knee. This rule states that a runner should not increase his weekly mileage by more than 10% of the previous week. The debate is whether the "rule" is a good suggestion, or an absolute rule. Whichever it is, the more slowly a runner builds up his mileage base, the less likely he will be to injure himself. The 10% rule is a good rule to observe when battling runner's knee, or trying to prevent it.



Nov 27, 2010 9:14am
Very good and informative. We all have to be careful what types of drugs we take. We used to take voltaren but that can and does affect part of your body causing bleeding. So we can never be tooo careful.
Nov 27, 2010 9:52am
I always hate suggesting anything with medication, but anti-inflammatory drugs work so well. You should check with your doctor first before taking anything new.
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