Also referred to as patellofemoral pain syndrome, runner’s knee is certainly a frequent problem for runners, but it can also strike for many other athletes who spend a lot of time bending their knees in activities like walking, jumping and biking. Although it is characterized as an ache around the kneecap, runner’s knee isn’t really a condition in itself, but rather a loose term for a series of disorders with different causes.
You may experience this kind of knee pain as a result of repeated bending of the knee causing irritation in the nerves of the kneecap. Tendons – the tissues connecting muscles to bones – can also become overstretched and cause a similar ache, or you may have suffered a fall or other accident resulting in direct trauma to the knee. Or perhaps your kneecap is slightly out of position? Indeed, any number of bones can be slightly misaligned, leading to the uneven distribution of any physical stress on your body, meaning that too much weight is borne by certain parts.
Flat feet can be another cause of such knee pain. The condition is also known as fallen arches or overpronation, and it’s instructive to know exactly how excessive pronation arises. Pronation is simply a foot’s normal movement, whereby the arch is flattened to some degree so that the body can better absorb and adapt to different ground surfaces. However, you may have inadequately supportive footwear or weak or tired feet, leading to the arch flattening more than normal. This is known as excessive pronation.
Alternatively, you may simply have weak thigh muscles, or such other mechanical conditions as wide hips (if you are a woman), patella alta (high patella), subluxating patella and/or knock knees. The knee pain itself can be behind or around the kneecap, or worsen when you walk downstairs or uphill. It can also take the form of popping or grinding sensations in the knee.
The good news is that a minor or moderate case of runner’s knee does tend to resolve itself, given time. However, it makes sense to rest the knee as much as you can, trying to avoid putting too much weight on it. Icing the knee can help to reduce pain or swelling, while an elastic bandage, straps or sleeves can also be used to compress the knee to give it extra support.
Anti-inflammatory painkillers, stretching and strengthening exercises – if recommended by a doctor – and arch supports for your shoes can also play a great role in making your knee as good as new once more, with only severe cases of runner’s knee likely to need surgery.