Runner’s Knee 101

Feet pounding the pavement. A glisten of hard-earned sweat between your brows. The burst of adrenaline that hits as a cool breeze blows. The joy of running surpasses seemingly anything that could stand in its way – from age to background, geographical location, or socioeconomic status – except when it comes to pain. Runner’s Knee is one of the most common running-related injuries, which may threaten your joy of the sport for a time. But with the help from The Orthopaedic Center, you’ll be back to doing what you love, whether you’re on the track, the road, or the trails.

What It Is

Runner’s Knee is an umbrella term for two different conditions: patellofemoral pain syndrome and IT band syndrome, with the latter being more specific than the former. In IT band syndrome, you’ll likely feel pain coming from the outside corner of your knee, especially going downstairs. The pain will set in quickly while running, likely within the first five minutes.

In patellofemoral pain syndrome, you may have pain in the top, inside corner, or under your kneecap. The pain may hit while you’re running or after being bent-kneed for a while, either sitting or standing. Your kneecap may be tender to the touch or make a clicking or grinding sound when you bend and stretch it.

How It Happens and Who Is Affected

Those new to running are at highest risk for developing Runner’s Knee. Often with new runners, the training schedule progresses too fast for the body to adapt, causing pain and inflammation.

If you have tight hip flexors and weak gluteus maximus muscles (a larger muscle at the base of your seat), the IT band can get stressed, creating IT band syndrome. In patellofemoral pain syndrome, the weakness is more likely in your gluteus medius, a muscle in your side seat. Creating strength in these areas should be balanced with flexibility in the hamstrings, Achilles tendon, and quadriceps. While running may make you feel invincible, your body needs 8-12 weeks of gradual training in these areas to lower the risk of injury.

Though less common, seasoned runners who’ve taken time off from the sport can also develop Runner’s Knee, particularly if there’s a change in routine – say if going from your usual long-distance races to sprinting drills. Not giving yourself adequate recovery time in between these training sessions may also be a culprit, leading to overuse and overtraining of the knees.

Certain anatomical traits may also predispose you to developing Runner’s Knee. For example, if you are a woman, have a kneecap that is too high in the knee joint, or have had a recent ankle, hip, or knee injury, you may be at higher risk.

What You Can Do

Quite possibly the best rule of thumb is to stop running until you can do so again without pain. This rest period may require a mixture of true rest, rehabilitation, and medical treatment. Once you’re on the right treatment path for you, you’ll likely notice considerable relief in 8-10 weeks if you’re diagnosed with IT band syndrome, or 10-12 weeks if you have patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Runner’s Knee is best prevented by increasing activity slowly, stretching before and after you run, and losing weight if your doctor advises you to do so. Getting new, properly fitting running shoes every 300 miles is also a good idea.

When to Seek Expert Care

When running is no longer that feel-good endorphin boost you’ve always loved, it’s time to seek medical advice. The symptoms of Runner’s Knee may often look like other knee conditions, so it’s important to have a diagnosis from an orthopaedic expert. And who you confide in matters – while you are so much more than your running, getting back to the sport you love is a big part of who you are. The specialists at The Orthopaedic Center will treat you as a whole person – not a number – by conducting a complete physical exam, taking into account the amount and duration of your pain, age, health history, and treatment preferences. X-rays or other testing may be needed to ensure an accurate diagnosis. When your knees give you more pain than pep in your step, reach out to The Orthopaedic Center for the best of modern medicine, delivered with unparalleled compassion and quality of care.