Runners knee can affect anyone, from beginner runners who are just starting out to elite athletes trying to achieve their next personal best.
Therefore, today I’m going to share with you a simple step-by-step runners knee injury treatment and prevention program that can help put a stop to the condition for good. By the end of this post, you will learn exactly how to spot the early signs of runners knee, how to treat it (even if you think it’s too late), and most importantly, you will also learn how to lay the foundation you need to prevent this notorious injury for life.
Image Credit – Tracy Luttrel via Flickr
Runner’s Knee Demystified
Runner’s knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, is a general term that has been used to refer to a number of specific disorders affecting the knee, and it’s one of the most common of all running ailments.
This condition got its nickname for an apparent reason—it’s really widespread among runners of all ages and training backgrounds. According to study, runners knee account for roughly 20 percent of all running injuries.
This injury can also inflict other athletes who do activities that require a lot knee bending such as biking, jumping, or skiing.
Runners Knee Symptoms
The primary symptom is mild pain around, and below the top of the kneecap, typically toward the center of the back of the knee where the kneecap and thighbone meet. The pain is, in most cases, mild at the first stages and may be only felt during running (or while doing other high impact exercises), but the pain becomes increasingly more intense not only during running but also after a workout.
Here is how to know for sure that you have the condition:
When the pain is worse when you run (especially downhill), descend the stairs, squat, after prolonged sitting or while doing any other activity that requires a bending motion in the knees.
You may also experience swelling and/or popping or cracking sensations in the knee.
Runners Knee – The Injury Process
At the root level, runners knee develops when the patella (the kneecap) tracks incorrectly over the femoral groove, which a groove in the thighbone—as you use your knee.
Under normal conditions, the patella rests in the femoral groove and glides effortlessly up and down as you bend and straighten your knee. But when the patella is misaligned—or tracking out of its normal range— it can irritate the nerves around the kneecap and damage the cartilage beneath the patella, leading to knee pain and eventually, runners knee.
Runners Knee Causes
Pinpointing a single cause of runner’s knee may prove elusive. There are so many factors that can lead to the condition.
Here are some of the causes:
Weak muscles. According to research and my personal experience, this is the root cause of all runners knee and knee pain. Weak glutes quadriceps—muscles at the front of the thighs—aren’t able to support the kneecap, forcing it to track out of alignment, resulting in severe biomechanical problems.
Or muscle tightness. Tight calves and hamstrings—the muscles at the back of the thighs—can put excessive pressure on the kneecap when you run, pulling the kneecap slightly to one side or the other, therefore increasing kneecap friction.
Misalignment. If your kneecap is out of its correct position—or misaligned in technical terms—then any sort of knee bending activity, such as running, biking, etc., can damage the cartilage of the kneecap
Overuse. The mere act of running that entails a lot of knee bending, repeated over and over gain, can irritate the kneecap joint and the nerves around it, leading to knee pain.
Image Credit – micolumnasana via Flickr
How to Treat and Prevent Runner’s Knee
If you have runners knee, then there is no perfect answer to when your knee will be healed. Nevertheless, to speed up the healing process, do the following.
This is obvious. Stop doing anything, including running and other high impact exercises, that leads to knee pain, but feel free to do as much exercise as you can do pain-free.
Take as many recovery days (or weeks) as you need. If you don’t want to stop exercising, then opt for cross training activities with minimum impact on the knee. Join a yoga class, strength train or join a swimming class.
Just because you have runners knee don’t mean that you should fall off the training wagon, and turn into a couch potato.
Ice Your Knee
Ice therapy can help you reduce pain and swelling around the knee. So make sure ice your injured knee for 15 to 20 minutes, at least, three times a day for as long as there is pain and tenderness.
This is another measure you can take to speed up the healing process. So use a pillow when lying down or sitting and keep the injured knee raised up higher than your chest level.
Take Anti-inflammatory Pills
I will only recommend that you take pills if the pain was too much to bear.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Aleve and Advil can tame the swelling and help with the pain. But keep in mind that cumbersome usage of the stuff can also lead to some unwanted side effects, like ulcers, etc.
See a Doctor
In case your knee did not get well with the above steps, and the pain persists, then you may need to see a physician and have a professional examine your knee for a thorough medical evaluation.
In most cases, runners knee can be easily treated provided that you spot it early on and take the necessary action steps on the spot.
Preventing Runners Knee
The best way to not suffer from runners knee to build the right foundation that will bulletproof your body against runners knee, as well as other running injuries.
After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the saying goes.
Here is what you need to do.
As I stated earlier, muscle weakness—especially the muscles surrounding and supporting the knees—is a critical factor in the development of the condition.
Therefore, your first line of defense against runner’s knee is to build strength in your lower body muscles, especially your hip abductors, and quadriceps.
Not only that, stability can also help you avoid IT band syndrome and a plethora of other running injuries.
Do the following 5 exercises, either as a part of your regular strength routine, or as a whole routine in itself if you have a history of the condition, or still suffering, from knee pain. These exercises will definitely help you improve strength and balance in the region.
Side leg lifts
Stretch Your Muscles
After the strength comes the flexibility and mobility work. By keeping your muscles loose and flexible, the kneecap will be able to glide easily up and down the patellar groove without much friction.
So do your best to stretch your lower body muscles—especially your calves and hamstrings. Foam roll, too. These two options are a great complement to strength training and loosen up tight quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
Here are some routines to consider:
Run on Proper Surfaces
Running is a high impact activity, and doing it on hard surfaces, like asphalt and concrete will only add more undue stress on your knees.
Do the bulk of your running on softer surfaces, such as grass, trails, or a synthetic track with a more soft surface. Or, at least, vary your running routes.
Steady and Slow
This is a no brainer. Most running injuries, not just runners knee, are usually the result of the runner trying to do too much too soon. So be cautious, especially if you have just started out running.
As a result, be sure to increase training intensity gradually and work it up to the distance you want to run over long months of training. Nothing happens overnight. And any sudden changes your training intensity leads to all sort of problems.
Listen to Your Body
In my personal experience as a runner and fitness expert, the best thing to do to help you prevent running injuries—not just runners knee—is to simply listen to your body and adjust your training accordingly.
If you learn one thing from this whole article, then this is what you need to keep in mind all the time.
Keep a keen eye (and ear) on your body throughout your workouts and afterward. If your body hurts, then you need to stop whatever you are doing and back off until the pain subsides.
Your body needs time to adapt to a new training stimulus. If you tried to skip that phase, then you are heading in the wrong direction, buddy.
So at the first sign of pain, back off, and rest until the pain subsides. If you persist on running with pain, then you are setting yourself up for a major setback.
Featured Image Credit – KT Tape via Flickr.