When runners talk, the most common injury discussed is “runner’s knee”. Most runners experience knee pain at one point or another. Whether it be when they add additional miles, change shoes, or other reasons, runner’s knee affects almost half of runners at some point. Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), more commonly known as runner’s knee , is a pain located between the kneecap and the femur. The term syndrome is used due to the fact that it encompasses many different types of pain, causes, and issues. Each runner may experience runner’s knee in a different way.
Medical theories disagree about the underlying cause and damage that creates the pain. No abnormalities are found to the knee through x-ray, MRI, or even surgical arthroscope. This has caused many doctors to stop focusing on the tissue, joint, and knee itself, and instead focus on relieving the pain. Usually by treating the pain, along with other corrective measures, a runner can successfully overcome PFPS.
There are several factors that play a role in PFPS that runners can address to prevent or treat it. Runners need to be aware of these factors and take the steps necessary to cope with them. These factors include not only doing the proper stretching, strength exercises, and stride, but also the right gear. Let’s look at these factors a little closer.
Running through the pain does not do any good to you or your knees. If running is causing you pain, cut back until you are pain free. For some that can mean running shorter periods of time, less distance, or fewer days. But it is important to stop when the pain begins. Taking an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen, can also help reduce the pain. Then build up to longer times and distances.
Strengthen the Hips
While it may be your knees that are hurting, your hips may be the culprit. If your hip abductors and hip external rotators are not strong enough, it can be causing your runner’s knee. During impact, if those muscles are weak, it falls to the knees to stabilize your hips. By strengthening your hips, you take the stress off of your knees. Work on contracting your muscles on the outside of your hips as you run to help build them up.
It is important not only to stretch the muscles before running, but also the iliotibial band or IT band. The IT band starts at the hip and extends down the outside of the thigh and attaches to the side of the kneecap. This thick, fibrous tissue is not like a muscle and should be stretched differently. Using a foam roller or other device along with your own weight will break up the adhesions and stretch the tissue out. Hamstring, quad, and hip stretches are also important.
The right equipment is also important to prevent runner’s knee. Getting fitted for the right shoes for you is a big part of running. Each foot, stride, person is different. If you suffer from runner’s knee, getting professionally fitted for shoes can help. Wearing a tendon strap, knee sleeve, or other knee brace can help relieve the pain and stress on the joint to help while other treatments are being used. But they should not replace addressing the real issues with treatment.
Runner’s knee can be painful and frustrating. It is best to take steps to prevent it in the first place. However, addressing the issues and correcting them as soon as possible should soon have you back up on your feet and running again.