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Runner’s Knee: What Is It?

Runner’s knee is a condition that causes pain around the front of the knee, particularly near the kneecap. Don’t let the name fool you: runner’s knee doesn’t just affect runners. Individuals who engage in repetitive knee-bending activities, such as cycling, jumping, or squatting, can experience this form of knee pain. The condition is characterized by discomfort or pain often felt during and after physical activities.

Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or lacing up your running shoes for the first time, understanding the ins and outs of this common ailment is helpful for preventing and managing its onset.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into runner’s knee – its causes, symptoms, prevention strategies, and rehabilitation techniques – to ensure that you stay pain-free and on your feet.

Runner’s knee: What is it?

A closeup of a runner landing on one foot

Runner’s knee, formally known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), is a condition characterized by pain around the front of the knee. Any activity that repeatedly stresses the knee cap or the areas around the knee cap can aggravate the condition. It is more common in women than men. This is believed to be due to a greater susceptibility to knee misalignment in women.

Runner’s knee symptoms include:

  • Pain around the knee cap, especially during activities that involve bending the knee, such as running, walking downstairs, or squatting.
  • Pain after prolonged sitting and a stiff feeling in your knee
  • Cracking or popping sensation
  • Swelling and inflammation in and around the patella

What cause’s runner’s knee?

Runner running across a bridge

Many causes of runner’s knee are not specific to the knee, but rather are abnormalities with the surrounding muscles and joints. Because the knee is a hinge joint, it relies on many different parts of the leg to properly perform its job.

Common causes of runner’s knee are:

  1. Misalignment of the patella: Improper tracking of the patella can lead to increased pressure on the joint.
  2. Muscle imbalances: Quad, hip, and knee imbalances can lead to biomechanical deficiencies that overexert the knee. 
  3. Overuse: Repeated knee bending and straightening during activities can cause excessive stress on the patellofemoral joint, leading to irritation and pain.
  4. Poor biomechanics: Issues with how the lower extremities function during movement, such as flat feet or overpronation, can contribute to developing a runner’s knee.
  5. Inadequate warm-up or stretching: Failing to properly warm up before exercise, or neglecting to stretch, can increase the risk of developing PFPS.
  6. Too much, too soon: A sudden increase in activity level, such as increasing mileage or intensity too quickly, can strain the knee joint and lead to a runner’s knee.
  7. Inadequate footwear: Improper footwear that does not provide adequate cushioning and support can contribute to knee pain.

How do I treat runner’s knee?

A runner running into the distance in a park

There are several ways of treating a runner’s knee. First and foremost, understanding the cause(s) will help you get back to being healthier faster. Common treatments include:

  1. Rest and iceGive your knees time to rest, and apply ice to reduce inflammation and pain.
  2. Reduce intensity: Reduce or stop the physical activity that could be causing the pain. Alternatively, reduce all activity while you consult a professional to diagnose the exact cause, at which point you can slowly re-introduce physical activity. You can also try low-impact activities such as swimming or cycling to maintain fitness while giving your knees a break.
  3. Physical therapy: Physiotherapy, massage therapy, and a strength program can help strengthen the muscles around the knee and improve biomechanics. Engage in exercises stretching and strengthening the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip, and calf muscles.
  4. Orthotics and proper footwear: Custom orthotic inserts or appropriate footwear can help correct biomechanical issues contributing to the condition. A shoe fitting and video gait analysis can help reveal any biomechanical deficiencies and provide a helpful guide into choosing the right shoe.
  5. Patellar taping: Taping techniques can help reposition the patella and reduce pain during activity.

When to see a chiropodist for a runner’s knee?

A runner running past a sign that says marathon

If the pain persists despite conservative treatments, consult a healthcare professional like a chiropodist for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.  Addressing the runner’s knee early is essential to prevent further complications and ensure a timely recovery.

Runner's knee holding you back? Consult the foot experts at Feet First Clinic

We can help you understand causes and symptoms of runner’s knee, and build you a treatment plan to get you back to 100%. Get expert advice on running health from Feet First Clinic by calling us at (416) 769-3338 or booking an appointment.

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Carolina Charles

Patient Relation Coordinator (She/Her)

If you’ve been to the clinic before, chances are you had the pleasure of meeting Carolina! Carolina’s daily goal is going above and beyond to make sure patients are always completely satisfied. Having worked in the podiatry industry for 22 years, Carolina brings a wealth of knowledge pertaining to client service, insurance policies, and procedures.​ She steers the ship to make sure everything runs smoothly on the daily. Carolina is known for spicing up every outfit with her signature costume jewellery.