If you’re a keen runner, you’ve probably heard people mention Runner’s Knee.
Being honest, it’s not a phrase you’ll find in medical dictionaries. It basically means ‘pain in the kneecap area’ – doctors would generally call that patellofemoral pain syndrome. But there’s usually no mistaking what people mean by it.
Typically, it occurs like this: you head out for a run, but after 15 or 20 minutes you notice a discomfort in or around the kneecap (often the front, though it might be at the sides or even behind the kneecap). You head home, forget about it, repeat the route a few days later… and the same thing happens.
What’s going on? Well, a number of things could be provoking that pain. Here are three common causes:
- Overuse – you’ve upped your exercise recently and the tissues or tendons have become irritated
- Malalignment – the shape of your bones, or weakness in the muscles surrounding your knee, is causing more weight to fall through one part of your joint
- Technique – your foot placement as you run is abnormally loading one part of your knee, particularly if you overpronate (roll your feet inwards) or have low arches (‘flat feet’)
OK, so what next?
Stage 1: stop!
If your knee feels painful during a run, it’s time to stop. Battling through recurrent knee pain is always a bad idea. Then rest up. You’re looking to do the tried-and-tested basics for your kneecap here – rest, ice, compression, elevation. (You can find out more about the icing element in this blog.) An anti-inflammatory painkiller like ibuprofen may be helpful, if you can take it. But resting doesn’t mean stopping all movement for the next week. Once you’ve done your icing and elevation, you’ll want to mobilise the joint again. Ceasing all movement for too long can cause things to stiffen up, which will make the problem worse.
Stage 2: analyse your running
If this is a repeat-pain problem, the next step is to think about your recent running habits. Are you spending a lot of time on uneven ground? Is that jolting your knee more than usual? How strong are your supportive muscles – particularly around the hips and quadriceps? If these muscles are too weak and you’re running a lot, you’ll be putting even more pressure on your knees. Also, think footwear: do you over- or underpronate as you run? If so, you want to make sure the shoes you’re wearing are supporting the right parts of your feet. Many running shops offer video-based gait analysis on a treadmill, which can be really helpful. Try googling “gait analysis” + “running shop” + [your town].
Stage 3: modify your activity
When it comes to exercise, running obviously isn’t the only game in town. That may be hard to hear if you love running more than anything. But modifying your exercise activity is a good way to take pressure off an injured knee while maintaining your general fitness, even if it’s just for the short term. We often recommend cycling, rowing, cross training and swimming as temporary alternatives. The muscle strengthening you do with these activities will pay dividends in your running, when you’re ready to resume the old routines.
Still having problems?
If your Runner’s Knee isn’t going away, it’s time to get it checked out. Make an appointment with your GP, or drop us a line here and we’ll help you find out what’s going on. MRI or x-ray images can be particularly helpful for diagnosing kneecap problems (and getting a quick scan isn’t actually as difficult as you might think – we’ve written a blog on that topic too). The root of the problem may be quite simple to fix, through a course of physiotherapy for example. But with recurrent pain after a high-impact activity like running, it’s better to get a clear diagnosis than to keep grinding your way to the finish line.