Runner´s knee – or Patellofemoral pain syndrome as it is called – is the most common running injury, accounting for roughly 20 percent of all running injuries. The symptom is pain below the patella (also known as the kneecap), which is generally mild first and is experienced only during exercise. But if it persists, the resulting pain can be sharp and sudden or dull and chronic. Sometimes, it may disappear while you’re running, just to return again afterward. There are many theories about what causes runner’s knee. While biomechanical issues may be to blame for runner’s knee, the cause can often be traced back to poorly conditioned quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thigh) and tight hamstrings (a group of muscles that extend the hip and flex the knee).
What can you do to help reverse and treat runner’s knee symptoms? Natural treatments for runner’s knee include stretching the legs and strengthening the quadriceps and hamstrings to decrease compensations. Other common treatments are seeing a professional physiotherapist for postural alignment adjustments or by healing inflamed connective tissue using approaches like prolotherapy (a nonsurgical treatment which stimulates healing).
Symptoms of Runner’s Knee
Patellofemoral pain syndrome can affect only one or both knees. The main symptom of a runner’s knee is pain on the lateral or outer side of your knee. You can also feel pain in different parts of the iliotibial band, somewhere between your hip and your knee. You can usually feel swelling on the outer side of your knee and it hurts when you put pressure on this spot. This pain can occur during running, walking or climbing stairs. Symptoms may vary according to the severity of your condition. It can be a dull, stabbing or sharp pain. Usually, at rest, you don’t feel pain at all but when you start moving your knee it may feel stiff and tight. Runner’s knee strikes mostly younger, recreational athletes and twice as many women as men.
Causes of Runner’s Knee
It’s not entirely clear what causes a runner’s knee. There are however a few factors that may contribute to the emergence of a runner’s knee; the patella may be larger on the outside than it is on the inside, it may sit too high in the femoral groove, or it may dislocate easily. Also, worn cartilage (elastic tissue) in the knee joint reduces shock absorption, high-arched feet provide less cushioning, and flat feet or knees that turn in or out excessively can pull the patella sideways. There are also muscular causes. Tight hamstring and calf muscles put pressure on the knee, and weak quadriceps muscles can cause the patella to track out of alignment. Just the repetitive force of a normal running stride alone can be enough to start the pain of runner’s knee.
A study, published in US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, suggests that excessive hip adduction increases the tension on the iliotibial band. Due to the adduction of your hip, your iliotibial band is stretched. When you put load on a stretched muscle or tendon it tends to harden, making it tense. Increased hip adduction is often caused by limited strength of your hip abductors like your glutes. Training your hip abductors may overcome this cause of iliotibial band friction syndrome.
Prevention and Treatment of Runner’s Knee
Make sure the running shoes you have are correctly fitted for you, whether you have high or low arches, and seek advice from a specialist running shop. Your shoes will be the first things hitting the ground when you run. It acts as a support to the foot and ankle and helps absorb shocks. So make sure you have stable running shoes with an optimal support and cushioning that provide shock absorption.
Most injuries are also caused by exercising too much. If you’re new to running, then build up the mileage slowly. Increase your mileage by 10 to 15 percent per week, and let your body get used to the movements and forces you’re putting on it. The pain is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Addressing issues early is much better than having to take a long lay-off.
The sooner you lessen the knee’s workload, the faster healing of runner’s knee begins. Avoid knee-bending activities and downward stairs and slopes until the pain decreases. Make sure you stretch evenly and consistently. Strengthening your quadriceps will improve patellar tracking, and stretching your hamstrings and calves will prevent pronation. As you rebuild mileage, use a smaller stride on hills. Consider orthotics devices (support) if new shoes don’t fix the problem. See a doctor if the pain persists to rule out another condition.