There's almost nothing that can hold a dedicated runner back from racking up the miles. Lacing up a pair of sneakers is in their blood. So there's nothing more frustrating for a runner than an injury that keeps them doing what they love. From shin splints to stress fractures, runners have to watch out for lots of different types of injuries, especially one of the most common - runner's knee.
THE BASICS ---
Runner's knee is one of the most common injuries that can hold a runner back from logging their miles, but there are ways to treat it and prevent it from coming back.
Caused by overuse and alignment problems, runner's knee is best treated in the short-term with rest, ice, compression and elevation.
Long-term treatment of runner's knee requires decreasing activity while correcting the muscular and functional imbalances cause runner's knee pain.
Addressing the alignment issues that cause runner's knee is as easy as adding arch support insoles to your running shoes. We recommend the firm, flexible support of Tread Labs Pace insoles to improve alignment and properly support your feet.
There are a few telltale signs that the pain you're experiencing is runner's knee. According to Veritas Health, the main symptoms of runner's knee may include:
Pain in the front of the knee caused by misalignment of the femoral groove and the patella. You may feel an ache when you're resting, which can worsen or become a sharp pain when you're using your knee.
Knee crepitus is a grinding or crunching sensation in the knee that is caused by certain movements. This is common after periods of extended rest and can lessen or go away during use.
Worsening pain when you're moving that may be accompanied by excess friction or popping noises.
Swelling on the front of the knee that can result in limited mobility and increased soreness.
Stiffness after rest that can occur after extended periods bending your knee, like riding in your car or sitting at a desk.
Generally, runner's knee symptoms include some amount of pain that intensifies while you're engaging in physical activity that involves your knee. The best way to determine if you have runner's knee is to see a medical professional for a diagnosis.
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 and often becomes more intense after rest. The pain can be magnified by stairs and hills or uneven surfaces. More common in recreational runners than elite runners, it's twice as prevalent in women than men.
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, particularly if there is a sudden change in activity levels.
Imbalance – The misalignment of the knee joint can be 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.
Is Runner's Knee Permanent?
For some people, runner's knee can last a few weeks and then the aching and pain it causes goes away. However, for other people runner's knee can last a few years. There are ways to treat runner's knee that address short-term relief and long-term prevention.
While the best course of treatment for runner's knee is to stop running until you are able to run again without pain, as Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests, 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.
Additionally, over-the-counter pain relief medications like ibuprofen can help reduce discomfort.
However, to address the causes of runner's knee in the long-term, you must consider two 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:
Bulgarian Split Squat
Functional Imbalance - If your runner's knee is caused, even partially, by foot biomechanics, insoles or orthotics for runner's knee will help. The firm support insoles provide prevent the inward rotation of the knee that results from overpronation of the foot.
If you’re looking for great runner's knee orthotics, follow these tips for the best results:
Firm support works best - Look for insoles that have a firm plastic or carbon fiber structure to support your arch from end to end. Soft foam insoles may feel good at first, but they don't provide the necessary support to correct the functional imbalance that causes your runner's knee.
Use your insoles like a tool - Even though you picked the best runner's knee insoles, 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. For the best results, find an insole that has an arch height that mimics the contours of your arch. You don't have to invest in custom orthotics. An over-the-counter insole with a choice of arch heights will work just fine.
In addition to adding insoles to your running sneakers, some other ways to prevent runner's knee include weight loss if needed, investing in a good pair of running shoes, running leaning forward with your knees bent, and stretching before you head out.