You may have been warned about runner's knee, but what exactly is it?
*This post was originally posted on Twins in Trainers
Runner’s knee is an elusive term thrown around the running community with a knowing look and sense of regret. It’s what every runner dreads and takes newbie and seasoned runners alike with little remorse. It hinders PRs and shatters your running dreams. We all dread it—but what actually is it, and more importantly, how can we avoid it?
What is runner’s knee and who gets it?
Runner’s knee is the term often used to describe patellofemoral pain or patellofemoral syndrome. I guess the blow of the diagnosis is slightly softened by the fact you’ve just been described as a runner—and if you’re anything like me you’ll automatically translate that to semi-professional athlete.
Runner’s knee causes pain behind or around the patella, which is your knee cap. The pain comes on gradually over time but is often related to an increase in activity that puts extra strain on the knee, such as running, as well as other activities like squatting and climbing stairs. As well as pain, you may have other symptoms such as knee stiffness and clicking or creaking.
Underlying problems can make you more susceptible to developing runner’s knee such as reduced muscle strength (especially in the hip abductors), problems in the alignment of the knee, foot problems and having hypermobility.
It mainly effects younger adults but can rear it’s head in any age group; in teenagers it’s related to rapid growth, and in older patients can be related to arthritis of the knee.
Luckily, your doctor or physiotherapist can often diagnose runner’s knee without performing any imaging, such as MRI or ultrasound; the story of you pain along with an examination is usually enough and you’ll only need further investigation if the diagnosis is in doubt.
What can be done about runner’s knee?
Luckily, runner’s knee has been shown to improve with both physiotherapy and foot orthotics.
Physiotherapy should be started as soon as possible for the best results, and improvement can be expected after 6-12 weeks (if you do the exercises!). It aims to improve muscle strength and address any problems in the alignment of the knee. There’s also some evidence for patellar taping, but this needs to be done by a professional; I wouldn’t advise giving it a go on your own as it’s unlikely to work and could do more harm than good.
It’s also shown that foot orthotics or insoles can improve symptoms. Again, I’d seek advice from a podiatrist to make sure you get the right insoles for your feet.
And finally, you’ll be pleased to know there isn’t evidence to support the use of cold compresses, so you can put that bag of peas back in the freezer!
How can you avoid runner’s knee?
- Avoid increasing your mileage or intensity of your training too quickly
- Include specific strength and conditioning workouts into your training plan
- Seek professional help earlier rather than later if any concerns.
- Maintain a healthy body weight
There are various causes of knee pain in runners. I would always advise seeking the help of a medical professional to assess the cause of your pain.