There are few things more frustrating for runners than an injury that keeps them from doing what they love. One of the most common running injuries is runner's knee. And while runner's knee can affect non-runners as well, it gets its name from it's prevalence among runners.
QUICK SUMMARY ---
Caused by overuse and alignment problems, runner's knee is best treated in the short-term with rest, ice, compression and elevation.
A long-term solution to address runner's knee starts with decreasing activity and correcting the muscular and functional imbalances that are causing the pain.
Orthotic insoles can assist with the alignment issues that cause runner's knee.
You've probably heard of runner’s knee as it is one of the most common running injuries with thousands of runners, and some non-runners too, experiencing it annually. However, you may not know that runner's knee actually refers to two different but common repetitive strain injuries - iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) and patellofemoral syndrome (PFPS).
Iliotibial band syndrome typically causes pain on the side of your knee, whereas patellofemoral syndrome typically causes pain on the front of your knee, around and under the kneecap. Both types of injury usually affect runners, triathletes, hikers and serious walkers.
Patellofemoral syndrome is much more common than iliotibial band syndrome. PFPS often becomes more intense after a period of rest and the pain can be magnified by walking up and down steps and hills or on uneven surfaces. It is more common in recreational runners than elite runners, and twice as prevalent in women than men. It can last a few weeks or bother you for years.
According to William Roberts, MD, in Runner's World, "Patellofemoral pain is most often a result of abnormal biomechanics caused by problems up- or downstream from the knee, forcing the patella to bump up against the femoral groove. Think of it like a train car: The patella is like a train on the femoral groove railroad track. When the train and the track don't run smoothly against each other, pain occurs."
The main causes of runner's knee are:
Overuse - Too much stress on the knee can trigger runner's knee, particularly if there is a sudden change in activity levels. The problem is caused by misalignment of parts of the knee joint.
Imbalance – The misalignment of the knee joint can by caused by imbalance. There are two types of imbalance.
Muscle Imbalance - When the muscles on the front of your leg are not as strong as the muscles in the rear, the stronger muscles pull your knee out of alignment and cause inflammation and pain.
Functional Imbalance - This occurs when the biomechanics of your foot and ankle are flawed and the rest of your leg (and hips) suffer as a result. Correcting the biomechanics of the foot and ankle with insoles or orthotics for runner's knee can have a positive effect.
How Do You Treat Runner's Knee?
Treatment includes alleviating the symptoms and addressing the cause. In the short-term, runner's knee symptoms are most effectively treated with:
Rest - Decrease the physical activity that taxed the knee joint.
Ice - Apply ice to your knee to decrease the inflammation and pain.
Compression - Support the knee with lightly-wrapped ace bandage.
Elevation - Rest with your knee above your heart to help ease the pain.
However, to address the causes of runner's knee in the long-term, you'll want to consider the following issues:
Overuse - Rest and decreased activity will help with a long-term cure.
Muscular Imbalance - A physical therapist can suggest exercises that balance the strength in the muscles surrounding the knee joint. Stretching also minimizes the uneven pull of the muscles. Sports medicine specialist and Ironman triathlete Jordan D. Metzl suggests the following stretches and exercises:
If you’re looking for great runner's knee orthotics, here are a few tips:
Use orthotic insoles like a tool - Even though you picked the most comfortable runner's knee orthotics, don’t overdo it! If you stick that insole in your shoe and run a marathon the next day, you’re at risk of injuring yourself again. Ease yourself into your new orthotic insoles. Wear them for a few hours to start, increasing the time gradually as your body adapts to a greater level of support.
One size does not fit all - Though your best friend might rave about her new insoles, you need to find the pair that will fit your feet and needs. Feet and bodies are different; one-size-fits-all solutions rarely work.