Athletes who play sports that involve running or jumping, or those who play soccer or ski tend to put a lot of stress on their knees. Runner’s knee is a loose term that refers to many different medical conditions that cause pain around the knee. The most common symptom of runner’s knee is an aching, dull pain around the front or under the kneecap where it joins the lower part of the thighbone. Pain usually occurs when kneeling, walking down or up stairs, sitting with a bent knee for an extended period of time, or squatting. Runner’s knee can also become aggravated after running for a significant period of time because the quads begin to tire. You may feel a grinding or popping sensation in the knee or there may be a clicking sound when you extend or bend your knee.
Runner’s knee can be caused by a number of different reasons. One of the main reasons is overuse. Repeated and constant bending of the knee can aggravate the kneecap’s nerves, resulting in pain. Overstretched tendons caused by overuse can also cause runner’s knee symptoms. It can also be caused by a direct trauma to the knee. This may occur as a result of a fall or a direct blow (such as a tackle in football). Sometimes your bones may be misaligned. If bones are even slightly out of their proper position, physical stress is not evenly distributed through your body causing specific parts of your body to bear too much weight. This can cause runner’s knee symptoms, damage to the joints, and pain or discomfort. Runner’s knee symptoms can also result from flat feet. People with flat feet can have their muscles and tendons stretched or the arches of their foot to collapse as a result of impact from a step. Runner’s knee can also be caused by weak thigh muscles, or if you roll your feet inward (overpronating) when you run.
To treat runner’s knee, begin by stopping any motion that creates knee pain. This includes jumping, running, exercising, or any sport that is putting stress on your knees. It is very important to rest. Try to avoid placing any weight on the knee that is in pain. If you want to remain active, try an activity such as swimming. You then want to use ice to help reduce pain and swelling (if there is any). Apply cold packs for short periods of time, about 7-8 times a day, for about a week. Wrap the ice pack in a thin towel to avoid causing damage to your skin. You also want to use a knee sleeve or another elastic bandage with the kneecap cut out for compression. Make sure it fits snugly but does not cause pain or discomfort. Be sure to elevate your knee and keep it higher than your heart. You can also take over-the-counter painkillers to help with swelling and pain. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary. The two types of surgery for runner’s knee are realignment and arthroscopy. During arthroscopy, the surgeon gets rid of fragments of damaged kneecap cartilage. During realignment, the surgeon realigns the kneecap and reduces the abnormal pressure on cartilage in or around the knee.
Unfortunately, there is no exact answer for when your runner’s knee will be healed or feel better. Recovery time depends on the severity of the injury, how you treat it, and how it responds to treatment. While you rehab, you may want to begin an activity that won’t irritate your runner’s knee. For example, if you are a runner, do laps in the pool to stay fit. Make sure you do not return to your previous level of physical activity until there is no longer any pain in your knee, either when it is straight or bent, or when you run, jump, or walk. To prevent runner’s knee, make sure you regularly stretch and exercise to help strengthen your thigh muscles. If you have flat feet, use orthotics, and ensure your shoes have the proper support. Try to avoid running on hard surfaces and make sure to maintain a healthy weight. Increase the intensity of your exercises gradually as opposed to abruptly, and wear a knee brace during your workout. Johns Hopkins Medicine has more information about runner’s knee.