Runner’s knee is an ailment that can affect runners, cyclists, joggers and anyone who performs a physical activity that requires repetitive bending of the knee. The medical term for runner’s knee is patellofemoral pain syndrome. There are a number of causes of runner’s knee, but no matter the cause, the symptoms remain the same. Runner’s knee is usually a mild injury and treatment is generally straightforward, though severe cases may require surgery.
Factors that Contribute to Runner’s Knee
One of the most common causes of runner’s knee is repetitive knee bending. That’s what makes joggers, cyclists and even walkers vulnerable to this condition. If you participate in physical activities that require repetitive knee bending, you’re at risk for runner’s knee.
Repetitive knee bending can, over time, irritate the nerves surrounding the kneecap and stretch the tendons in the joint, causing the pain, swelling and discomfort of runner’s knee. Those who have fallen arches, flat feet or other orthopedic problems often develop runner’s knee. Underdeveloped thigh muscles, or imbalanced development in the thigh muscles, can cause runner’s knee. A direct blow to the knee can also damage the knee and cause misalignment of the kneecap or bones of the leg, leading to the pain syndrome commonly known as runner’s knee.
Diagnosing Runner’s Knee
Your doctor will diagnose runner’s knee by examining you physically and taking a complete medical history. He’ll also ask about the sports or physical activities you enjoy, and recent changes in your activity level, and any recent falls, blows or mishaps that may have damaged the knee. Your doctor may need to use diagnostic imaging, in the form of X-rays or MRIs, for example, to determine the full extent of the damage to your knee.
Non-Surgical Treatment for Runner’s Knee
Most cases of runner’s knee require only nonsurgical treatments. You’ll need to rest the knee, keep it elevated, and keep your weight off of it as much as possible during recovery. For the first few days, you’ll need to ice the knee regularly to reduce inflammation and pain. Wrapping or bracing the knee can help to support it during the recovery process.
If your doctor doesn’t prescribe pain medication, you can take aspirin, ibuprofen or another over the counter pain reliever. Refrain from your normal physical activities, but perform any exercises or stretches that your doctor may recommend. If your runner’s knee is the result of orthopedic problems like fallen arches, see a podiatrist and have custom arch supports made. Musculoskeletal misalignments are a major cause of runner’s knee, so resolving them can help your knee heal and prevent runner’s knee from recurring.
Surgical Treatment for Runner’s Knee
In the most severe cases of runner’s knee, surgery is required. If your runner’s knee is the result of a misalignment of the kneecap, your doctor will surgically realign the kneecap to relieve the pressure it’s placing on the tendons and soft tissues inside your knee. If the cartilage of your knee has sustained damage, your doctor will perform an arthroscopy, a procedure in which a tiny instrument, or arthroscope, is used to remove damaged tissue through a small incision.