While the 40,000 or so runners who took part in this year’s London Marathon will be toasting their success, totting up their sponsorship money and enjoying a well-earned rest, some of them will, unfortunately, be nursing injuries.
One of the most common of these is Runner’s knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome.
This is characterised by pain either above or below the kneecap that tends to worsen when you run up or down hills or stairs. It can sometimes be accompanied by a popping sound and/or swelling.
Runners knee can be a debilitating condition that can halt your training schedule for many weeks. Unfortunately some runners ignore the body’s warning signals and try to push on through the pain. This is a mistake as it can lead to long-term damage and an extended time away from the running track.
Causes of Runner’s Knee
Runner’s knee doesn’t just occur in runners but also in people who perform any activity that places repeated stress on the knee, such as skiing, jumping, cycling or football.
It is caused by the soft tissues or lining of the knee becoming irritated, or by strained tendons, or torn cartilage.
This is normally due to overuse, trauma or misalignment of the kneecap. It may also be caused by weak thigh muscles, flat feet, or inadequate stretching before exercising. Certain conditions like arthritis can also result in the condition.
Runner’s Knee Symptoms
Runner’s knee causes a dull, aching pain around or behind the kneecap. It may be felt during any kind of movement, such as running, walking, kneeling or sitting.
Diagnosing Runner’s Knee
It is important to get an accurate diagnosis if you suspect Runner’s knee so that you can treat the condition effectively.
Treatment of Runner’s Knee
If you are diagnosed with Runner’s knee, the most important first step is to use the RICE method:
- Rest the knee and avoid subjecting it to any further stress
- Ice applied to the knee for up to 30 minutes at a time can reduce pain and swelling.
- Compression with an elastic bandage can also help to bring down swelling.
- Elevation of the foot – with it elevated above the level of the heart in the case of severe swelling – can prevent any further swelling.
You can take anti-inflammatories and painkillers and, once the swelling has gone down, a physical therapist can recommend exercises to restore your knee’s strength and improve flexibility.
You may need to wear a brace or orthotics for extra support. If the kneecap has been pushed out of alignment or the cartilage is damaged, you may require surgery.
Knee Injury Prevention
There are some simple steps you can take to reduce the chances of developing runner’s knee. These include:
- A thorough warm up with stretching exercises to increase your knee’s flexibility and prevent irritation.
- Building your core strength to support the knee. A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that 19 participants with patellofemoral pain syndrome experienced significant improvements in pain levels following an eight-week hip and core strengthening programme.
- Listening to your body. If you feel pain, stop and check your posture. If the pain continues, halt your training and seek medical advice.
- Building up gradually rather than suddenly increasing the intensity of your training.
- Wearing proper running shoes with good levels of shock absorption to prevent knee damage.
- Getting fit and maintaining a healthy weight.
- Developing healthy running habits such as keeping yourself upright with your knees bent when you run, running in a zigzag pattern when going down hill and running on a soft, smooth surface rather than concrete.