The Athlete’s Guide to Runner’s Knee

Christopher C. Dodson, MD August 22nd, 2017

If you are experiencing runner's knee symptoms, we have the answers you need.

You’re out on a morning run. The sun is rising, the wind is at your back, and you feel physically prime. It’s perfection—until you notice that dull ache in the front of your knee acting up again.

Later, after sitting for an extended period of time, you stand—and immediately experience the dull, aching pain in your knee again. As time passes, the pain during activity or after long, sedentary periods continues to occur.

If you have experienced a scenario such as this, chances are your symptoms are the result of a condition known as patellofemoral pain syndrome—commonly referred to as runner's knee. And, while it likely is not the advice you wish to hear, it is advisable that you cease running and high-impact activity (jumping, squatting, etc.) and pursue a medical examination. If it is determined that you are suffering from the symptoms of runner's knee, there will be a number of treatment options available to you, ranging from activity modification to surgery.

The experts at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute have compiled the following overview of the essential information runners and athletes need to know about this condition; this enables athletes to make informed decisions regarding their treatment options and goals as they look forward toward runner's knee recovery.

Runner’s Knee: What is it?

Patellofemoral pain syndrome or runner's knee is an orthopaedic condition that affects the tissues, nerves, and bone of the kneecap (patella). The symptoms of this condition result from the flaring of pain sensation in nerves located within the tissue of the patella.

Typical runner's knee symptoms include aching pain during repetitive activity that stresses or bends the knee, pain after an extended period of rest with bent knees (sitting), pain that flares in response to increases in frequency or intensity of activity, and sounds or sensations of popping and cracking within the knee. Inflammation around the knee may also occur.

How Does Runner’s Knee Develop?

There are three main root causes of runner's knee: Overuse (or high-impact use), chondromalacia patella (which is sometimes similarly referred to as “runner's knee”), and malalignment of the patella.

The most common cause of this condition among runners and other athletes is simple overuse or heavy, repetitious high-impact activity. As activity that bends the knee (such as running) causes stress to the knee over time, the tissues of the patella can become aggravated, causing painful symptoms. This may likewise occur due to changes in your activity (especially an increase in the intensity or duration of activity) or the use of improper athletic wear.

In some cases, stress from activity is paired with pre-existing conditions—or such a condition may be primarily to blame. Chondromalacia patella, which causes the cartilage beneath the kneecap to soften and degrade, is one such condition. It can cause inflammation within the knee joint and pain surrounding the bone.

Patellar malalignment, meanwhile, results from either structural deformity that causes the kneecap to track incorrectly or weak and imbalanced muscles in the knees and legs (especially the quadriceps). Over time, this can cause pain and damage within the patella—which is exaggerated by intense, repetitive activity.

What To Do If You’re Experiencing Runner’s Knee Symptoms

If you begin to experience the symptoms of runner's knee, continued activity may advance this condition, causing increased severity of symptoms and structural damage. While this may mean temporary inhibition of your athletic activity, further harm can compromise your ability to be active in the long-term. Schedule an examination with a physician to assess the degree of your condition and consider treatment options.

Runner’s Knee Treatment

After an examination has been performed, your physician will be able to recommend a runner's knee treatment that will effectively eliminate symptoms and allow you to achieve your goals of returning to normal activity. Treatments for runner's knee include the following:

  • Modification of frequency or intensity of activity—either temporarily or long-term

  • Rest, icing, compression, and elevation of the affected knee

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications

  • Physical therapy and runner's knee exercises

  • Orthotics, assistive devices, or the use of a runner's knee brace

  • Surgery, including arthroscopy and tibial tubercle transfer

If you wish to have the best available treatment for your runner's knee condition, the sports medicine experts at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute can provide the care and treatment options you need so that you can heal effectively and return to athletic activity. To learn more, visit us here or contact us at1-800-321-9999.

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