Injury Guide: Runner’s Knee

July 13, 2021

Injury Guide: Runner’s Knee

Pain around your kneecap? Maybe it’s runner’s knee. But don’t fall for its deceptive name, this condition is not exclusive to runners. 

What is runner’s knee?

Runner’s knee refers to the pain around the kneecap (in case you forgot - that’s also called the patella). Runner’s knee can sometimes be referred to aspatellar tendinitis, but it’s only one of the MANY causes of knee pain. Some of the conditions that are referred to as runner’s knee are anterior pain syndrome, patellofemoral malalignment, chondromalacia patella, or iliotibial band syndrome. 

We know, we know - Big words. Allow us to break it down for you one by one. 

What is anterior knee pain syndrome?

Anterior knee pain syndrome, as the name suggests, is pain that occurs at the front and center of the knee. Pain at the front and center of your knee can be telling of conditions such as:

  • an inflamed tendon (patellar tendinitis)
  • a misaligned patella that protrudes more to the outside (lateral compression syndrome)
  • instability of the patella (patella maltracking)
  • a degradation of the cartilage under your kneecap (patella arthritis)
  • Impingement of the inner lining of the knee (synovial impingement)

What is patellofemoral malalignment?

Patellofemoral malalignment is also called jumper’s knee since it’s common among people with a vigorous lifestyle who overuse their knees. Pain is often felt more when you engage your knees (running, using the stairs, squatting, etc.). The main symptom of patellofemoral malalignment is pain, but it can also manifest as instability, knee effusion, weakness, or locking and grating. 

What is chondromalacia patella?

Chondromalacia patella is the softening and the breaking down of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap. This stems from the kneecap  and the thigh bone rubbing together. 

What is iliotibial band syndrome?

Iliotibial band syndrome is an overuse injury of the connective tissues that are located on the outer side of the thigh and knee.

Understanding the IT band – Harvard Gazette

The iliotibial band is a thick band of tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh - from the hipbone to the tibia. It crosses both the hip and the knee joints and allows the hip to maneuver away from the midline. It’s also integral to the knee’s ability to flex and extend. 

Through overuse, the bursae along the bony condyle where the IT band glides across gets inflamed. This becomes the source of knee pain and when the symptoms are neglected, scars can develop in the bursa consequently decreasing the knee’s range of motion. 

What are the signs and symptoms of runner’s knee?

Dull and aching knee pain is the main symptom of runner’s knee. It can be felt behind the kneecap, around, or at the front and center of it. Other symptoms include: 

  • Dull, aching pain when walking, using the stairs, squatting, kneeling, running or jumping, sitting down, standing up, or bending the knee for a long period of time.
  • Grinding sensation in the knee
  • Popping sound when engaging the knee
  • Weakness or instability

How do you diagnose any of these injuries?

To accurately diagnose the cause of your knee pain, your doctor will have to conduct a physical examination. Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, and a CT scan might also be necessary. 

How do you treat runner’s knee?

Most cases of runner’s knee can be treated without any drastic measures like surgery. It can take 4 to 6 weeks to recover from it. More often than not, runner’s knee can be treated with the age-old P.R.I.C.E. method. 

P is for Protect

Protecting the knee from any more injuries is the first step of P.R.I.C.E. Knee braces are very helpful in supporting your knee’s recovery or preventing any injuries while playing sports. 

R is for Rest

In order to give your knee time to heal, avoid repetitive stress on your knee. Stop any strenuous activities and try not to give it any stress at all. 

I is for Ice

Cold therapy significantly reduces blood flow to the injured area, which results in less swelling. It acts as a local anesthetic by numbing the sore muscles and sends less pain signals to the brain. 

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C is for Compression

Compression is helpful in reducing swelling. Wrap your knee with an elastic bandage or compression wraps in order to reduce pain and swelling. When done properly, compression can help oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the injured area to promote recovery. 

E is for Elevation

Keeping the injured area above the level of the heart will help with swelling. You can elevate your knee by placing a pillow under it while you’re sitting or lying down.

If these methods aren’t enough, taking over-the-counter NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications) like Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Acetaminophen will surely help. Some exercises can also help with pain or strengthening your knee.

You can check this one out from Doctor Jo:

When should you see a doctor for runner’s knee?

If the pain and swelling does not subside after applying the PRICE method, your injury might be more serious than it seems. Check in with your physician immediately if you feel significant pain or notice significant swelling to make sure you haven’t seriously damaged your knee. 

Some people might be hesitant to go to the physician since it might mean that they have to stop playing a sport that they love or stopping an activity that they need to do on the daily. Remember that the earlier you can get help, the earlier you can get your treatment, and the faster your recovery will be. 

Surgery may be needed in cases with a damaged cartilage or a misaligned kneecap.  

Who are at risk for runner’s knee?

  • Teenagers and young adults are prone to short-term muscle imbalances during growth spurts.
  • Females are more likely to develop runner’s knee than males since they possess less muscle mass. This can affect knee positioning and can have an effect on the pressure on the patella.
  • A previous knee injury increases your risk of developing runner’s knee.
  • Athletes who put pressure on their knee joints have an increased risk for knee problems. These sports include running, contact sports, jumping, etc. 
  • Having flat feet stresses the knee joint more than having high arches. 
  • Obesity and weight gain increases your risk for runner’s knee, since it puts more pressure on your knees. 

How do you prevent runner’s knee?

  • Keep your weight in check. Being overweight contributes great stress to your knees (apart from other health conditions that could arise from it). If you are worried about your BMI, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about weight loss plans.
  • Don’t overdo your training. The phrase “No pain, no gain” should be taken with a grain of salt, especially when you can irreparably damage your knee. Don’t overdo your training and learn when to rest. Rest is just as important as effort - remember that. 
  • Warm up properly. Don’t take your stretches and warm up for granted because they will save you a trip to the doctor’s office. 
  • Use proper form. When strength training, running, or biking, observe proper form so as to prevent unnecessary stress on your knees. 

Final thoughts

Our knees allow us to enjoy our human body and its incredible range of motion. We can jump, run, feel alive, be stronger, run for miles, and really go the distance. However, it is  susceptible to pain or overuse. Don’t forget to rest when you can - especially when it gets too much. 

Here at IceWraps, we want to support you while you lead an active lifestyle and help you manage the pain that you experience along the way. With IceWraps, pain relief is just a click away! 

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