Runner’s Knee: Dealing with Patellofemoral Pain

Everyone knows that running puts a pounding on your knees.  The constant pressure of slamming your foot against a surface can cause many parts of the knee to break down, and one of these places is the patellofemoral junction.

The patella is your kneecap and serves to protect the joint against blows from the front.

However, it articulates with the lower part of the thighbone, or femur, creating a joint of sorts that can cause pain under pressure.

You don’t need to be a runner to experience patellofemoral pain, or runner’s knee.  Any activity that puts stress on the joint, such as skiing, cycling, football, basketball, and other sports can cause this joint to stress.

In fact, the causes of patellofemoral pain can arise from injury, but tight thigh muscles and flat feet are also known causes of this condition.

In addition, if the patella comes out of alignment or dislocates, it can cause stress and pain at this juncture.  You don’t need to be an athlete to experience runner’s knee, especially if your have flat feet or weak muscles in your leg.

What Will I Feel?

Pain is the most common complaint among those who have runner’s knee.  Sometimes the pain only occurs on movement or the activity that caused the problem.

In many cases, though, the pain can be felt at rest.  Most of the pain will center on the patella, and it will be worse when the patella is moved around in its socket.  You may also experience redness and swelling in your knee, particularly after a round of running or exerting yourself.

The pain will occur primarily where the kneecap meets the end of the thighbone, and it isn’t likely to cause pain in other parts of the knee.  That isn’t to say that runner’s knee can’t be present with other problems, such as ligament issues, though.

For this reason, it is important to get a full examination by your doctor.  They will ask you to sit, stand, squat, and otherwise manipulate the knee.  You will also be asked if certain activities, such as walking up stairs, cause the pain to become worse, and the doctor will want to know your exercise history to pinpoint the cause.

The best way to determine what is causing your pain is an MRI.  Magnetic resonance imaging can view the soft tissue of the knee, visualize the patellofemoral junction, and rule out any other cause of knee pain.

What Can I Do?

Fortunately, the treatment for runner’s knee is nonsurgical.  You can prevent this common knee complaint by stretching and warming up before doing strenuous activity.

In addition, working to increase the strength of the thigh muscles will protect this joint and keep you from injuring it.  However, if you already have pain around your kneecap, you still don’t have to worry about surgery.  The first line of treatment is RICE.  This means rest, ice, compression, and elevation, and the use of over the counter pain medicines.

Rest and ice are pretty self-explanatory, but compression means using an ACE bandage to force the swelling out of the knee.  Elevation means lifting the knee above the level of the heart to discourage swelling, as well.

In cases where these methods don’t work, you may need to have a course of physical therapy.  You will work on the strength of your leg muscles and learn how to protect your knee during the activity that caused the problem.  In severe cases, you may need surgery.

Using minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery, ragged pieces of cartilage and other debris can be cleaned out of the space.  You may also qualify for surgical realignment of the patella, but either of these surgeries is rare.

Most runner’s knee resolves with rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.  Only for the most elite athletes or the most severe damage is surgery even considered an option.