Runner’s knee can really interfere with your training, but physical therapy can help

Whether you’re entering the final stages of a multi-month training program for the New York City Marathon in early November or you’re simply a casual runner that enjoys logging some miles a few times a week, you’ve probably crossed paths with an injury of some sort at one time or another in your past.

Runners are plagued by a wide array of potential injuries, but some consider patellofemoral pain syndrome, or runner’s knee, to be the most common of these. Accounting for about 20% of all running injuries, runner’s knee can actually result from any activity that requires repeated knee bending—walking, biking, jumping—but as you can probably guess, it’s most prevalent in runners.

Runner’s knee is not a specific condition itself, but a loose term used to describe several similar disorders with different causes, and for this reason, it’s not always easy to peg down the exact reason it develops. Misalignment of the kneecap (patella), weak thigh muscles, overuse, flat or over-arched feet and direct trauma to the knee are all factors that can contribute, and if any one or a combination of these factors is strong enough, runner’s knee can result.

Stress from running causes irritation where the patella rests on the thighbone, and symptoms of runner’s knee include tenderness behind or around the patella, pain—especially when walking downhill—swelling and a popping or grinding sensation in the knee. For runners of any level, these symptoms can really interfere with training and prevent you from keeping up with your running schedule…Fortunately, runner’s knee can be prevented by making some basic changes to your routine, and if pain does develop, taking some time off and rehabilitating the region properly will help ensure you’ll be back out there in no time. Here’s how:

  • Do a five-minute warm-up and some stretching before starting a run
  • Run on softer surfaces, keep your mileage increase to less than 10% per week and gradually increase your hill workout without overdoing it
  • Go to a specialty shoe store and have a gait analysis to ensure you’re using proper shoes for your foot type and gait
  • Be sure you’re using proper running form; click here for more information
  • If you do experience any pain, cut back your mileage significantly and avoid knee-bending activities and downward slopes until it subsides
  • Apply the RICE method to the knee
  • Consider using orthotics for flat feet or if new shoes don’t fix the problem
  • For continued pain, see a physical therapist, who will offer an exercise program that focuses on improving strength and flexibility of the thigh muscles, as well as manual techniques like massage and other modalities

At Dynamic Sports Physical Therapy in New York City, we see runners on a regular basis and deal with many common injuries like runner’s knee. If you’re experiencing lingering pain that’s getting in the way of your training routine, come see us for an evaluation and treatment program that will bring you back to form quickly. Call 212-317-8303 for more info or to schedule an appointment.