Runner’s knee, aka patellofemoral pain syndrome, is a catch-all term to describe pain at the front and around the kneecap (the patella). It’s not exclusive to runners, but is a very common complaint amongst our community.
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Discomfort or pain, particularly on flexion (bending) and under load (weighted) around the knee joint. Activities that might produce pain include running, (within the running gait you land on a flexed knee), or in exercises such as squats and lunges which places stress around the patella. Going downstairs or downhill, kneeling for long periods, and jumping can all cause discomfort.
The causes are varied and individual, and usually a combination of factors. As great as running is for us, it does place strain on the body, and there comes a point where you have to be strong enough to run. An increase in training and neglecting correlating strengthening of the gluteal muscles, quadriceps and the calf muscles can be a factor. Indeed, one study in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy found that four times our body weight is placed on the gluteus medius through the running gait. Seek professional help from a physiotherapist to identify the cause and guide rehabilitation, but there are some self help techniques and strengthening exercises that will help:
If the glutes aren’t strong enough to take the load of running, then the effort is put on the quads, supporting the kneecap. If they’re not strong enough for the load placed on them, then the stress is put on the patella. Discomfort between the kneecap and the femur (thigh bone) then occurs. Think about your daily activities and whether movements bring on the pain - is there any way to modify them?
Find time for strengthening exercises. These needn’t be laborious or gym-based initially. Build a routine to include side leg raises, crab walks, donkey kicks and bridges using resistance bands to start off with for the glutes, and body weight squats and lunges for the quads. Some discomfort is acceptable, as muscle adaptation isn’t always comfortable, but if it’s too much, stop or modify.
Runner’s knee responds well and quickly to treatment when it’s caught in time. If you’re getting a niggle in the knee, do seek professional advice so that it doesn’t side-line you for long, and get on the strengthening!
Examine your past few runs and identify what causes the pain. It might be that some mileage is fine but hills or speed work aggravate the condition.