Runner's knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome, is a common issue faced by athletes, especially those involved in running. This condition can have a significant impact on an athlete's performance and well-being. In this blog, we'll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for runner's knee, providing valuable information and resources to help runners maintain their passion for the sport while prioritizing their health.
Causes of Runner's Knee
Overuse and repetitive stress: Running and other high-impact activities can cause irritation and inflammation, leading to discomfort and pain.
Muscle imbalances and weaknesses: Particularly in the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip muscles, which can negatively impact the stability and alignment of the kneecap.
Improper running form and footwear: Poor form and unsupportive shoes can place undue stress on the knee joint, increasing susceptibility to injury.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Common symptoms: Dull, aching pain around or behind the kneecap, which can worsen during activities like running, walking, squatting, or climbing stairs.
Diagnostic tests: Physical examination, X-rays, MRI scans, or ultrasound scans may be used to rule out other potential causes of knee pain and confirm the presence of patellofemoral pain syndrome. Ultrasound scans can help visualize the soft tissue structures around the knee and assess for any signs of inflammation or injury.
When to see a healthcare professional: Consult a doctor if you suspect you may have runner's knee for a thorough assessment.
Prevention, Treatment, and Injection Options
To reduce stress on the knee joint and promote stability, incorporate knee-strengthening exercises into your fitness routine. Focus on exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip muscles, as well as the core. Examples of these exercises include:
Improving running form and footwear
Proper running form is crucial in preventing and managing runner's knee. Maintain an upright posture, engage your core, and avoid overstriding. Land on your midfoot, and maintain a comfortable stride rate of around 170-180 steps per minute. Choose supportive and well-fitting shoes that match your foot type and running style, and replace them regularly to ensure adequate cushioning and support.
Incorporating rest and cross-training
Rest is essential for recovering from runner's knee, allowing the joint to heal while maintaining overall fitness. Incorporate cross-training activities that don't exacerbate knee pain, such as swimming, cycling, or rowing. These activities provide a low-impact alternative to running and help maintain cardiovascular fitness during the recovery process.
In some cases, injections may be a viable option to alleviate pain and promote healing:
Corticosteroid injections: These injections provide short-term relief by reducing inflammation in the affected joint. However, their repeated use may lead to potential side effects, such as weakening of the surrounding tissues and bones.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections: PRP therapy involves injecting a concentrated form of the patient's own blood platelets into the injured area. The growth factors in the platelets stimulate the body's natural healing processes, promoting tissue repair and reducing inflammation.
Hyaluronic acid injections: Also known as viscosupplementation, hyaluronic acid injections help lubricate the knee joint, improving its function and reducing pain. Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance found in joint fluid that aids in cushioning and lubricating the joint.
Recovery and Returning to Running
Follow a structured rehabilitation program: Adhere to your healthcare professional's guidance, which may include physical therapy and a gradual increase in activity levels.
Monitor progress and adjust training: Pay attention to any signs of discomfort or pain and make adjustments as needed.
Injury prevention: Prioritize proper running form, incorporate regular strengthening exercises for the knee and surrounding muscles, and schedule rest days.
The importance of proper care for runner's knee and adopting a proactive approach to prevention and treatment cannot be overstated. Consult a doctor or healthcare professional to accurately diagnose and address this condition, as they can provide tailored advice, treatment recommendations, and guidance throughout the recovery process. By prioritizing your health and well-being, you can continue to pursue your passion for running while minimizing the risk of injury and enjoying a fulfilling, active life.
About the Author: Dr. Mustafa Alnaib MBChB, MRCS, MSc, FEBOT is an orthopaedic surgeon, musculoskeletal doctor and Clinic Director at ACTIVATE Musculoskeletal Clinic in Kent.