4 Causes and Cures of Knee Pain in Runners

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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4 Causes and Cures of Knee Pain in Runners

For anyone who loves to run, being sidelined by injury can be frustrating. Whether it’s from overtraining or weakness, knee injuries can be some of the most common for runners to experience — and can often keep you away from the sport for extended periods of time if not handled correctly.

To keep you running, learn how to identify the symptoms of these four common knee injuries and what you can do to cure your aches and pains.

PATELLOFERMORAL PAIN SYNDROME (PFPS)

What it is: Also known as runner’s knee, this common running injury refers to pain in the area where the backside of the knee cap meets the groove on the top of the femur. During running or other movements, incorrect patella tracking along this groove can cause pain or wearing of the joint surface.

Causes & symptoms: Symptoms usually occur during or after a run around the outer edges of the knee cap or directly underneath. Popping sounds may also be present whenever the knee is bent and straightened. Causes of poor patellofemoral tracking include weakness in the quadriceps, gluteus medius or excessive pronation during foot strike.

How to fix it: If you are a pronator, stability running shoes and orthotics may be needed. If the cause is muscle weakness, focus on strengthening the quadriceps and the muscles of the hip with an emphasis on the gluteus medius. Shortening your stride and adding a stretching routine for the quadriceps and hamstrings can help prevent future injury.

ILIOTIBIAL BAND SYNDROME (ITBS)

What it is: Originating from the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), a small muscle on the outer part of the hip, the iliotibial band (ITB) is a thick, connective tissue that runs along the outside of the thigh to the outer portion of the knee. Pain usually develops on the outside of the knee from inflammation of the bursa, which sits in between the ITB and the condyle of the femur.

Causes & symptoms: Symptoms are usually on the lateral side of the knee, with pain occurring after your run begins and subsiding when you stop. Weakness in the hip muscles, quads and hamstrings are causes. Running on uneven surfaces and or having “bow legs” makes developing ITBS more likely.

How to fix it: Improving hip mobility along with some light stretching can help to correct any flexibility issues. Hip-strengthening exercises, targeting the gluteus medius help, as does general quadriceps strengthening. Foam rolling along the connective tissue of the outer thigh and addressing overpronation issues with motion-control running shoes is also recommended.

PATELLAR TENDONITIS

What it is: Originating just above the knee cap and inserting just below it, the patellar tendon connects the knee cap with the tibia. When it becomes inflamed, runners generally experience pain just below the knee cap.

Causes & symptoms: The most common cause of patella tendonitis is overuse, such as increasing mileage too quickly, repetitive strain from excessive speed work or interval training, and high mileage. Once the tendon is inflamed, individuals experience symptoms during exercise and other daily activities, such as going up and down stairs.

How to fix it: To allow the inflammation of the tendon to decrease, rest is needed. Don’t run until symptoms have subsided, but continue any cross-training cardio exercises that don’t cause pain. Treatment includes icing the patella tendon for 20 minutes 3–5 times per day. When you do begin running again, make sure to increase mileage by no more than 10 percent each week and allow for rest between hard interval sessions. Leg-strengthening exercises may also be added once pain has subsided to prevent the injury from reoccurring in the future.


READ MORE > A RUNNER’S GUIDE TO INJURY PREVENTION


INJURY TO KNEE CARTILAGE

What it is: While the meniscus is the cartilage between the knee, hyaline cartilage covers the ends of the femur and tibia that form the knee joint. Meniscal injuries can be caused from trauma (like twisting or falling) or from progressive degeneration over the years. Hyaline cartilage can also wear out over time and cause the bones of the knee joint to grind against each other.  

Causes & symptoms: Meniscal injuries caused from trauma are generally accompanied by swelling around the joint and pin-point pain on the midline of the knee (the space between the femur and tibia), most often on the medial side. Locking symptoms are also common. Hyaline cartilage degeneration may cause a stiff feeling in the knee and generalized pain inside the knee joint.

How to fix it: For severe injuries involving swelling, a visit to your doctor is recommended. Conservative treatment includes icing, NSAIDs and activities that don’t cause pain. In some severe cases, surgery may be needed to decrease symptoms.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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