What’s Runner’s Knee?

What's Runner's Knee
Runner’s Knee, also referred to as Patello-femoral syndrome, is a general term used to describe a non-specific knee pain that most commonly affects the front of the knee and the patella (knee cap) and it’s aggravated by activities such as running, jumping and more generally by mechanical overuse.
Pain features are:
  • In the front of your kneecap (though it could be perceived or spread also around or behind it).
  • When you bend your knee to walk, squat, kneel, run, or even get up from a chair.
  • Gets worse when you walk downstairs or downhill.
  • The area around your knee could swell, or you might hear popping or have a grinding feeling in the knee.
Runner’s Knee is thought to be caused by an increased level of friction between the soft tissues and the joint structures of the knee, leading to low-grade chronic irritation, wear and tear and therefore pain.

It can be caused by several factors:

  • Mechanical overuse determined by exercises that involve repetitive flexion and extension of the knee like lunges or running.
  • Congenital malalignment of your leg bones causes any of the bones from your hips to your ankles to be out of their correct position. This can put excessive pressure on certain areas and cause your knee cap not to move smoothly through its groove, which increases the friction between tissues and can cause pain and irritation.
  • Flat feet. This condition will cause an alteration of the transmission of forces down your leg and change the way these forces are dissipated and absorbed while moving, leading to certain areas receiving too much mechanical load and causing pain higher up in the chain at the level of your knee.
  • Weak or unbalanced thigh muscles. The quadriceps (the muscle in the front of your thigh) is made of four different muscles that work together to keep your kneecap in place when you bend and extend the joint. If these muscles are too weak or too tight their action on the patella might change, pulling it out of its groove and causing maltracking.
  • Chondromalacia patella. A condition in which the cartilage under your kneecap is worn and thinned causing too direct contact and friction between the bones forming the joint.

What can you do to recover from Runner’s Knee?

The first step to take is to get an appropriate diagnosis by visiting a physiotherapist or an osteopath. Your practitioner will carry out several mobility and strength tests to determine the most likely cause for your pain and propose an appropriate treatment plan which might involve:
  • Manipulation of your hip, knee and ankle joints.
  • Soft tissue and myofascial release techniques.
  • Taping and strapping of the patella.
  • Rehabilitation exercises prescription to address the imbalance or strength deficit of your leg muscles.
Runner’s Knee usually improves successfully with conservative treatment such as physiotherapy and osteopathy. If this doesn’t work though, you will probably be referred for an MRI scan of your knee or to an orthopaedic consultant who will be able to discuss further options with you such as a steroid injection or in very rare cases surgery.