Runner’s Knee

What is runner’s knee?

Runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome) is pain at the front of knee and around the kneecap (patella).

There are many structures that control how the kneecap moves in the groove of the thighbone (femur). Imbalances in these structures can contribute to pain, abnormal tracking of the patella, and sometimes wear and tear on the underside of the kneecap (chondromalacia). Activities that require repetitive bending of the knee may make the kneecap pain worse.

What causes runner’s knee?

Several factors may contribute to runner’s knee, including:

  • Unbalanced leg strength
  • Poor core stability
  • Lack of gluteal strength
  • Increased kneecap-to-tibia angle (Q-angle)
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Repetitive activities
  • Increasing training too quickly

What are the symptoms of runner’s knee?

The most common symptoms of runner’s knee include:

  • Dull, aching, sometimes sharp pain
  • Clicking and/or popping under the kneecap
  • Symptoms that worsen with stairs, kneeling, prolonged sitting, or repetitive activities

How is runner’s knee diagnosed?

A discussion of your symptoms, a physical examination, and X-rays are useful for a diagnosis. Your specialist may recommend having an MRI scan as well.

How is runner’s knee treated?

Minor to moderate cases should heal on their own, given time. There are steps you can take to speed healing, including:

  • Resting your knee
  • Icing your knee for 15 to 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours
  • Compressing your knee with elastic bandages, straps, or sleeves
  • Taking anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as Advil, Aleve, or Motrin
  • Performing stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Getting physical therapy

Surgery may be needed in severe cases. A surgeon can remove damaged cartilage or correct the position of the kneecap so that stress will be distributed evenly.

What can I do to prevent runner’s knee?

You can prevent runner’s knee in several ways:

  • Staying in good shape (less weight means less stress on your knees)
  • Stretching well before exercising
  • Increasing training gradually
  • Using proper running gear
  • Making sure your running form is proper

Also see...

  • Ask Sam Olson: Does My Running Shoe Matter?

    Choosing the right running shoe starts with an understanding of the relationship between our feet and our bodies. Summit physical therapist Sam Olson explains how our feet inform our body, and discusses the latest research about running shoes.

  • A Runner’s Guide for Healthy Knees

    A contestant at the annual October Twin Cities Marathon described the start of this year’s race over the misty Mississippi as “running into heaven.” There’s no reason why a long run on a crisp autumn day can’t always be a heavenly experience. By building… Read More.

  • prevent running injuries

    Running QUICKGuide

    Get top tips from the experts on preventing running injuries in our Running QUICKGuide.