What is Runner’s Knee?
Runner’s knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome, is the name given to a specific set of conditions that involve overuse or injury of the muscles in the kneecap and thigh. Running places immense stress on the tendons, bone, and muscle in the knees and thighs, giving rise to the condition called runner’s knee. While running, the thighs and hamstrings pull on the tendons that connect them to the kneecaps. If the muscles are too tight, this can overwork the knee. Without proper training and rest, this causes runner’s knee. This is very similar to what happens in Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome, a condition in which the IT band that extends from the hip constantly rubs against the thigh and puts stress on the knee.
Symptoms of Runner’s Knee
- Pain in the kneecap area
- Pain when moving the knee
- Increasing pain when walking downstairs or down a hill
What Causes Runner’s Knee?
- Lack of rest
Be sure to give your body enough rest between running sessions. Do not over train. If you have pain in your thighs or knees that seems worse than the usual soreness, be sure to take a few days off from running.
Any type of fall or hit to the knee can cause runner’s knee.
Bones or tendons that are out of alignment places extra stress on the knee. Often, the cause of runner’s knee is found to be an improperly aligned kneecap.
- Fallen arches or flat feet
If your arches are fallen or you have flat feet, this puts you more at risk for runner’s knee. Arches support the feet and legs and evenly distributes weight and stress. When the arches no longer provide support, this puts added strain on your muscles and knees, especially when running. To prevent this, wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes that support the arches. If you have flat feet, be sure and wear inserts to support your arches.
- Improper shoes
Improper or overly used shoes can lead to runner’s knee due to lack of support. Make sure you buy new shoes that are specifically designed for runners. A good rule of thumb is to replace your running shoes every 500 miles.
- Running downhill
When running, especially if you’re getting into a new routine, avoid running downhill as much as possible. While this seems counter intuitive, running downhill actually puts more stress and strain on your knee. This is due to the biomechanics of the way your knee bends while you move down slopes. Your body is trying to overcome gravity, and this causes your knee to bend to the side while running.
- Weak hip adductors
Weakness in the hips puts you more at risk of runner’s knee. This is because the adductors don’t have enough strength to keep your legs properly aligned while running. This causes uneven wear in your muscles and tendons, which pulls on your knee. Regular sports massage and warm-ups keep this muscle group strong.
- Anterior hip tightness
Anterior hip tightness is common in runners. This tightness in the hips causes a lack of flexibility and range of motion that increases the risk of runner’s knee. To loosen your hips and prevent an injury, make sure you stretch and warm up before running. Make sure the stretches target the hip flexor and thigh region.
- Uneven leg length
When one of your legs is slightly shorter than the other one, the longer leg is always compensating. This causes an uneven gait, which puts strain on the knees and makes you more likely to overuse them. You can wear insoles to even your leg length. If the discrepancy is small enough, incorporating stretches and flexibility exercises into your routine can be enough to prevent runner’s knee.
Diagnosis of Runner’s Knee
If you suspect you have runner’s knee, see a doctor, physical therapist, or biomechanical expert to get properly diagnosed. Runner’s knee can mimic other types of injuries, some of which can require surgery if they are left untreated. Also, an expert can determine the exact cause of the injury and help you get the proper treatment.
Runner’s Knee Treatment
- Rest – Often, the first step in treatment is rest. Runner’s knee is usually caused by overuse, so be sure and take a couple days off from running to allow your knee to recover. For some, this is the only treatment that is needed.
- Ice – Ice doesn’t directly treat the cause of the injury, but it eases your symptoms. Ice reduces swelling and numbs pain and soreness. Keep the ice on your knee for twenty minutes. You can repeat this every three hours until your injury heals.
- Stretches – Stretches ease tightness in the muscles and joints and allows for flexibility. As the muscles relax, this lessens the load on the knee and helps it heal. [click here for specific stretches]
- Massage – Massage works in a similar way to stretching in that it loosens the muscles. But, massage offers the benefit of being able to pull the muscles and tendons into better alignment.
Here are the types of massage that can help runner’s knee:
- Active release
- Trigger point
- Deep tissue
If you suspect you have runner’s knee, rest and get a professional diagnosis right away. Ask your doctor about how a professional sports massage from Matrix Spa & Massage can help your symptoms of Runner’s Knee. The sooner you get treatment, the sooner you can get back on your feet.