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What is runner's knee?

This is the most common injury among runners and non-runners alike. For some it is a short-term problem and others it is a life-long struggle. Runner’s Knee is usually associated with an increase in activity. This can be increased mileage, increased hills, or just over-doing it on one particular day. Pain is often worse after exercise. The pain can be felt on any side of the knee, but most often on the front. Pain is worse after getting up from rest, with sitting for a while with your knees bent or with going down stairs. 

So what causes it? The answer is really in the name - Patellofemoral (meaning knee cap and thigh bone) Syndrome. It is essentially a problem with alignment. A good comparison is that of a rope in a pulley. If the rope says in the center of the pulley then everything runs smoothly, but if the rope is pulled off to the side then there can be uneven wear and fraying of the rope. The knee is just the same. There is a groove in the bottom of the thigh bone that acts like a pulley. The knee cap, its tendons, and the quadriceps muscle acts at the rope. So, if the alignment of the knee is off, then there is uneven wear under the knee cap, causing inflammation and pain.
There are a variety of things that can contribute to runner’s knee. Some of these issues cannot be changed like the bone anatomy, the tightness of ligaments, and how ‘knock-kneed’ you are. Others can be influenced like muscle strength, foot arch, and pelvic alignment. 

The mainstay of initial treatment is relative rest, strengthening of the thigh and hip muscles, and anti-inflammatory medications. Other treatments of benefit are bracing, taping, and pelvic adjustment. Rarely, is surgery a considered option. So, if this sounds like something that you may be dealing with I would suggest taking a step back on you training and search the web for ‘Patellofemoral exercises’. It will take 2-4 weeks to see improvement with these exercises. If these are not helpful, pay your friendly neighborhood sports medicine doctor a visit.

Runners knee is most often associated with animproper patellofemoral tracking, leg length discrepancies, asymmetries of the foot, ankle or lower leg, and weakness or inhibition of the proximal hip musculature during activity (running) or other activities. These malalignments can cause a number of problems in the knee. Most often things like iliotibial band syndrome, patellar tenditis and chondromalacia are common. The most important step is an assessment to determine what is causing the malalignment.
We know this sounds complicated but a reputable sports medicine physician or certified athletic trainer can offer assistance in the assessment. Treatment can range from formal therapeutic interventions, corrective exercise and modalities to administration of anti-inflammatory medications (OTC or prescribed by your doctor). Again, assessment is the first step in determining treatment options.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.