The term ‘runner’s knee’ refers to several problems that cause pain on the front of the knee. The most common symptom is a constant ache underneath the kneecap when you run, and it is the most common running injury. However, it’s not limited to runners. Any activity that puts a lot of stress through the knee joint can result in a person developing runner’s knee. So if you play football, rugby, or even take part in a low impact sport like cycling you can run the risk of developing runner’s knee.
What’s happening is that the tissues in and around the knee aren’t recovering from running-induced damage between runs. The pain will usually be fairly mild to begin with, and will tend to only be apparent when running (or carrying out the activity that’s causing the damage). However as the intensity of the exercise increases, or the duration of the session, then the pain will increase.
Symptoms of Runner’s Knee
The main symptoms of runner’s knee include:
- A dull, aching pain around or behind the kneecap
- Swelling of the knee
- Grinding and popping of the knee when it moves through its range of motion
- Pain is worse when active, and will gradually subside when resting
Causes of Runner’s Knee
Runner’s knee can have a wide range of causes. Sometimes the issues are biomechanical so they are related to how your knee and leg moves. These types of causes include:
- Muscle tightness in the knee or hip
- Muscle weakness in the knee or hip - a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Exercise & Sports found that women who developed runner’s knee had higher pelvic and hip instability.
- Bad posture
- Structural problems in the knee - minor variations in the structure of your knee joint can make you more susceptible to runner’s knee
- Running style - heel strikers put more force through their knee joint than those who run with a midfoot strike
- Weak hamstrings
- Weak quads
- Pronounced ‘navicular drop’ (flattening of your foot arch when bearing weight)
- Smaller knee flexion angle (the amount a knee bends, tested specifically with a jump test in the study)
- But there are other issues that can make you more likely to develop runner’s knee. The most common is simply overuse. If you run a lot or play a lot of sports that put weight and force through the knee then the joint can become worn with use and the muscles around it don’t have time to adequately recover. Also factors like your footwear (not being adequate for the sport you play for example) and the running surface can play a part.
What To Do If You Develop Runner’s Knee
Caring for runner’s knee involves the usual PRICE method in the early stages:
- Protection - You may find a knee support helps to stabilise the joint and limit pain
- Rest - Reduce activity to allow the knee time to heal
- Ice - Using cooling to manage pain and reduce swelling, like ice or one of our cooling bandages
- Compression - Compression can help with healing, so use one of our bandages to get dual benefits of cooling and compression
- Elevation - Keep your knee elevated whenever possible
You may find that you need to dramatically reduce your training schedule when faced with runner’s knee, particularly if the injury is painful from the offset. You can then continue to increase your running gradually back toward pre-injury levels as comfort allows, reversing this process briefly whenever soreness emerges.
As the studies we cited above show strengthening the hip, knee, and quads will all help to protect you from runner’s knee. Once the initial pain has subsided you should speak to your GP or a physiotherapist and get some exercises you can do at home to help build the strength back into your muscles.
Once you have recovered, you may find that switching to running shoes with more cushioning will help reduce your impact and protect the knees, preventing a repeat injury in the future.
If you’re suffering from runner’s knee we have a runner's knee bundle that can help you manage the pain and swelling. Get yours today.