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Runner’s knee: signs, symptoms and treatment

Published: 16 July 2019 - Fitness and Training, Injury Treatment and Prevention

Image of a woman with knee pain

Anterior knee pain is one of the most common presenting complaints in many physiotherapy practices. The technical name for this complaint is patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), or runner’s knee because, you guessed it, it is common among runners!

What are the symptoms of runner's knee?

The onset of runner's knee or patellofemoral pain syndrome is often insidious but it may also present after an acute traumatic episode such as falling on the knee or after a knee surgery. It usually presents as an ache that is difficult to pinpoint but is often felt behind the kneecap. The pain gradually worsens with activity such as climbing stairs, running and sitting for long periods of time. It may also present as clicking in the knee and excessive movement of the knee cap. It also may be associated with episodes of your knee, giving way.

What causes patellofemoral pain syndrome?

Patellofemoral pain syndrome is common among recreational runners, the younger population (ages 15-30), and people who have recently increased their training loads. The condition also occurs more frequently in women than in men.

Unfortunately pinpointing a single cause of runner’s knee is difficult as it is often a result of a biomechanical problem, in other words, mis-alignment through your body.

Some common causes, include:

  • Having a shallow groove where the kneecap sits
  • Flexibility through your ligaments
  • Flat feet
  • Tight musculature
  • Hip and core weakness

Anything that puts extra pressure on the kneecap and the groove that it sits in can cause PFPS. An assessment by your physiotherapist is vital to determine the underlying cause. Need support? Book your Free Initial Assessment with us today.

Further reading: Low back pain is a common problem experienced by runners - the result of overloading of the structures in the back from repetitive stress

How is runner's knee treated?

Once a physiotherapist has assessed you and found the root cause of the issue, they will work to reduce your pain and then eliminate any future episodes of PFPS.

A few treatment techniques that may be used include:

1. Reducing activity to allow the knee to heal, followed by a gradual increase in activity, and then adding distance and incline into your program. The sooner you lessen the knee’s workload, the faster the healing process will occur.

2. Advice to avoid aggravating activities, especially knee bending, downward stairs and slopes.

3. Soft tissue release and stretching of tight muscles

4. Strengthening of muscles around the knee and hip to improve the way - and support how - the kneecap moves within its groove

5. Taping

6. Foot orthotics

7. Core strengthening

The variety in treatment techniques shows the complexity of treating PFPS, and the importance of addressing all contributing factors in order to get back to pain-free running in the long term. Just remember, everything in your body is connected! Learn more about preventing common running injuries.

Experiencing knee pain? Contact us today to book your Free Initial Assessment!