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Runner Knee Pain

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT July 30, 2020 0 Comments

Whether you have a long history of participating in endurance-based physical activity or just want to make sure you can enjoy frequent walks without problems, understanding the condition known as runner’s knee is essential. However, runner’s knee can actually affect people with all types of lifestyles and activity levels. Read on to learn everything you need to know to keep your knees at full performance.

What is Runner’s Knee?

Runner’s knee is not one specific condition but rather a general term used for pain in the knee during activities like running.  Due to this, it makes sense that runner’s knee is one of the most common knee injuries for anyone that runs regularly. However runner’s knee can affect anyone with an active lifestyle, whether that means occasional biking or long strolls.

Here is just a small list of the possible issues in the knee that can cause knee pain and affect your ability to do your normal activities:

  • Anterior Knee Syndrome

    Pain in the front/center of the knee.

  • Patellofemoral Malalignment

    Poor alignment of the kneecap leading to pain with knee flexion (bending).

  • Chondromalacia Patella

    Softening of the cartilage in the knee cap.

  • Iliotibial Band Syndrome

    Stiffness in the band of tissue running down the side of the leg leading to significant pain in the side of the knee.

Can I Run With Runner’s Knee?

This is a common question for those suffering from runner’s knee. The truth is that it depends on your situation. You may find a certain running form, specific distances, or varying your running speed can help you better tolerate your activities. However, if you can’t seem to pinpoint or modify your knee issues and it is resulting in continuous or progressive pain, it’s recommended that you take a break and figure out the true underlying cause before proceeding. 

Common Causes of Runner’s Knee

Runner’s knee can be caused by a lot of different factors. The most common ones include:

  • Excessive or habitual running, stair climbing, walking, biking, or jumping these are the most common causes.
  • Long periods of time spent sitting, squatting, or kneeling.
  • A direct blow to the knee resulting from a fall or accident can cause long-term pain.
  • Pre-existing conditions such as osteoarthritis or previous injury
  • Muscle weakness or imbalances of the core, hips, knees, or ankles. Maintain balanced muscular strength with a regular strength training regimen.
  • Gait abnormalities associated with a limp, muscle weakness,  fallen arches or other foot deformities. 
  • Hypermobile feet are a common cause — when the joints in and around the feet move more than needed, putting extra strain on the patella and entire lower body mechanics.

Runner’s Knee Symptoms

Knee pain for runners is the most common symptom that leads to seeking diagnosis and subsequent treatment of runner’s knee. Regardless of the source of your runner’s knee, pain will be the most prominent and persistent symptom, along with possible minor swelling.

The location of knee pain can vary significantly with runner’s knee, in fact it can occur pretty much anywhere around the knee joint or associated muscles. Pain can occur on the front, back, or sides of the joint and usually flares up during specific aggravating activities. Pain will often be strongest while walking, running, or descending stairs.

Diagnosing Runner’s Knee

A professional runner’s knee diagnosis usually involves a physical examination.  With a full history, assessment of knee pain, strength, flexibility and other associated symptoms, typically a diagnosis can be made based on deficits and a personalized program can be recommended.  While not typical, X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans may be necessary for an in-depth look at the joint if there is significant instability in the knee or a fracture is suspected.

Runner’s Knee Recovery

Since runner’s knee is an umbrella term for many conditions, understanding how to help runner’s knee means considering your individual injury. This is why it is so important to tune into your own specific symptoms and use them as a gauge for recovery. If you feel you need more guidance, a physical therapy evaluation and treatment can help you feel confident in the process. 

  • How Long Does Runner’s Knee Last?

    With the right treatment, runner’s knee can often be resolved in a matter of weeks (typically 4-12 weeks). Minor injuries come with passing pain that will dissipate with a few days of rest, while more serious complications should be discussed with your doctor on a case-by-case basis.

  • How to Run With Runner’s Knee

    Choosing a soft surface like gravel or a rubber rice track is a good bet while exercising with sore knees to decrease impact. In general, never increase your running time or distance by more than 10% per day while recovering. A compression sleeve or  brace is a great companion to any exercise during this time to promote circulation and help you tune into your knee mechanics better, known as proprioception.

  • How Long to Rest Runner’s Knee

    If standing or slight movement causes significant pain, keep physical activity to a minimum until seeing your doctor. However, in many cases it’s possible to resume modest exercise immediately, as long as you start slow.  Simply put, you will want to modify your normal routine until you feel comfortable progressing toward your previous level of activity and beyond.

How to Prevent Runner’s Knee

The best prevention program consists of regular exercise and a comprehensive stretching routine. Additionally, having a deep understanding of your body mechanics with running or other activities can make a significant difference for promoting balance and health as well. Avoid overexertion and bring any potential problems to your doctor’s attention.

Stretches to Help Runner’s Knee

Keeping Up With Runner’s Knee

Understanding the possible causes and how to fix runner’s knee means addressing the specifics of your individual case. However as with any of our joints, regular balanced activity is the best defense against pain, stiffness, and other troublesome symptoms. With treatment options like knee braces, pain medications, and a full spectrum of leg exercises from a knowledgeable physical therapist, healing runner’s knee should be relatively straightforward.




Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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