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Runner’s Knee

As the name suggests, runner's knee is a common ailment among runners. But it can also strike any athlete who does activities that require a lot of knee bending -- like walking, biking, and jumping. It usually causes aching pain around the kneecap.

Runner's knee isn't really a condition itself. It's a loose term for several specific disorders with different causes. Runner's knee can result from:

  • Overuse. Repeated bending of the knee can irritate the nerves of the kneecap. Overstretched tendons (tendons are the tissues that connect muscles to bones) may also cause the pain of runner's knee.
  • Direct trauma to the knee, like a fall or blow.
  • Misalignment. If any of the bones are slightly out of their correct position -- or misaligned -- physical stress won't be evenly distributed through your body. Certain parts of your body may bear too much weight. This can cause pain and damage to the joints. Sometimes, the kneecap itself is slightly out of position.
  • Problems with the feet. Runner's knee can result from flat feet, also called fallen arches or overpronation. This is a condition in which the impact of a step causes the arches of your foot to collapse, stretching the muscles and tendons.
  • Weak thigh muscles.

Runner's knee is also called patellofemoral pain syndrome.

What Does Runner's Knee Feel Like?

Symptoms of runner's knee are:

  • Pain behind or around the kneecap, especially where the thighbone and the kneecap meet.
  • Pain when you bend the knee -- when walking, squatting, kneeling, running, or even sitting.
  • Pain that's worse when walking downstairs or downhill.
  • Swelling.
  • Popping or grinding sensations in the knee.

To diagnose runner's knee, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. You may also need X-rays, MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), CT (Computed Tomography) scans, and other tests.

What's the Treatment for Runner's Knee?

Regardless of the cause, the good news is that minor to moderate cases of runner's knee should heal on their own given time. To speed the healing you can:

  • Rest the knee. As much as possible, try to avoid putting weight on your knee.
  • Ice your knee to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days, or until the pain is gone.
  • Compress your knee. Use an elastic bandage, straps, or sleeves to give your knee extra support.
  • Elevate your knee on a pillow when you're sitting or lying down.
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.
  • Get arch supports for your shoes. These orthotics -- which can be custom-made or bought off the shelf -- may help with flat feet.

Severe cases of runner's knee may need surgery. A surgeon could take out damaged cartilage or correct the position of the kneecap so that stress will be distributed evenly.

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