Knee Pain After Running

The term runner’s knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), is a common condition occurring in people who experience knee pain after running. Although not typically debilitating, this condition can cause significant pain in the knee joint which worsens over time if corrective measures are not taken. In the majority of cases, when pain is addressed quickly, simple treatments and/or alterations encourage marked improvements while allowing you to continue with or return to the sport of running without an extensive delay.

Runner’s Knee Has Specific Characteristics

PFPS is characterized by a specific type of knee pain which originates below the kneecap itself, often on the upper end where the thigh muscles and the kneecap meet. Pain is typically felt when the knee is in a bent position, whether while running, walking, bending, or even sitting. Inflammation is also typically present. When symptoms first begin, you may only notice knee pain after running, but continuing with the same workout routine without making adjustments will likely lead to a steady increase in the frequency of symptoms, until eventually, you experience pain even in sedentary situations.

Numerous Factors Are Responsible for PFPS

Knee pain after running is attributed to a number of causative factors, including:

  • Misalignment of the kneecap, or patella, which forces your knee to bear weight unevenly.
  • Weak thigh muscles, which may be the underlying factor behind a misaligned patella. The vastus lateralis, or most lateral quadricep muscle, is often stronger than the other three quad muscles, and can pull the patella laterally as it overpowers the weaker muscles.
  • Fallen arches or overpronation, known as flat feet. Under the impact of running, the arches of the feet can collapse, causing extreme impact on the knee joint due to excessive stretching of the muscles and tendons.
  • Overuse of the knees, as repetitive bending can irritate the nerve endings behind the kneecap.

Human knee quadracept

Those who choose to have a professional diagnosis for their knee pain after running will typically undergo a physical exam as well as x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, etc. However, research has shown no obvious structural damage is typically present with PFPS; rather, the condition is described as a chronic stimulation of the nerve endings in the knee joint, resulting in pain and inflammation.

Allow Your Knee to Heal to Avoid Further Damage

Although consulting with your doctor is always wise with any injury, in the case of PFPS, treatment can often be carried out at home with no medical intervention. First and foremost, any activity which you know causes knee pain should be ceased to avoid further irritation or damage to the knee itself. If your PFPS has become so severe that you are unable to run at all without experiencing knee pain after running, than a complete break from running will be in order to allow your knee to properly heal.

Many runners, however, are able to run for a certain amount of time or for a certain distance without experiencing any knee pain after running. If, for example, pain begins after 30 minutes of running, you may be able to safely run for 20 minutes during a session. Some runners may be able to run every other day, but not on consecutive days. The general idea is to run as much as your body allows, but not push beyond what is comfortable, to keep your knees accustomed to running while still allowing natural healing to occur. After a few weeks, try increasing the amount of time you spend running to see if your pain limits have improved.

Simple Treatment Measures Provide Pain Relief

In addition to adjusting your running schedule, any or all of the following are likely to provide relief from the symptoms of PFPS:

  • Resting your knee throughout the day; elevate your knee while sitting or lying down to reduce inflammation.
  • Applying ice packs to your knee for 20-30 minutes, 3 or 4 times each day, until pain subsides.
  • Providing extra knee support with an elastic bandage or strap, especially while running.
  • Stretching and strengthening your thigh muscles to encourage proper alignment and tracking of your kneecap.
  • Wearing comfortable running shoes with arch supports to help reduce pain resulting from flat feet.
  • Avoiding running on concrete or on uneven ground.
  • Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help reduce inflammation.

Although knee pain after running is likely to worsen if ignored, only extreme cases require medical intervention such as surgery to fully heal. The key with PFPS is to listen to your body and never push yourself beyond a comfortable amount of running. Remember, your knee cannot heal when you are experiencing pain. Try cross training activities such as bicycling or swimming to stay fit while in recovery, or just to mix up your fitness routine to lessen the stress on those knee joints.


Runner’s Knee

Almost without exception, every athlete who regularly uses their legs to any extent will eventually be plagued with a problem in one of their joints. This goes for those of world-class caliber like Shaquille O’Neil as well as for the modest weekend runner. Foremost among these problems is the dreaded “runner’s knee” one of the most common repetitive strain injuries evident in athletes. Here’s what you need to know about this debilitating and potentially quite serious condition:

Typical Causes

Running injury, knee painOften referred to as patellofemoral pain or iliotibial band syndrome – depending on exactly where the pain is localized – runner’s knee is a broadly defined condition that can be caused by any number of strain-producing activities. Chief among these issues are:

  • Overuse – Repeated bending of the knee while running, working out or otherwise engaging in exercise will often irritate the nerves of the kneecap for no apparent reason.
  • Overstretching – While a cherished tradition of the athletic community, stretching is not always as beneficial as thought. In particular, abusing tendons – the tissues that connect the muscles to the bones – by overstretching can result in an inflammation in the knee.
  • Trauma – A severe fall or blow can damage otherwise healthy tissue leading to recurrent, idiopathic pain throughout the joint.
  • Misalignment – The luck of the genetic draw sometimes leaves an individual with one or several bones out of their optimal position. These misaligned bones cause pressure and other physical stress to be distributed unevenly throughout the knee joint. Over time, damage is caused and pain results.
  • Foot Issues – Similarly, pronation or more familiarly, “flat feet,” is another congenital condition that places undue stress on the knee joint. As the extremity impacts the ground, the “fallen arches” of the foot collapse more than is necessary thus overly stretching the muscles and the tendons in the joint.

Common Symptoms

As you can imagine, the symptoms of runner’s knee involve pain in and around the joint where the thighbone and the kneecap meet. More specifically, the patient will describe a general joint pain when simply bending the knee – whether they are simply walking, attempting to sit or kneel or are engaged in squatting and other more vigorous types of exercise.

In addition, the pain in the joint is usually more extreme when the victim is walking down a flight of stairs or even a small downhill incline. Finally, victims of runner’s knee commonly experience swelling in the affected joint – by the way, it is not at all uncommon for only one joint to be affected – as well as a popping noise or grinding sensation when the joint is in use.

Professional Diagnosis

Radiologist kneeStandard techniques for diagnosing runner’s knee include a thorough physical exam of the area including manual manipulation of the joint. As mentioned above, runner’s knee falls into two distinct categories. Patellofemoral syndrome is indicated by pain specifically in the kneecap while iliotibial band syndrome causes distress along the side of the joint. The former is more painful ascending stairs and inclines while the latter hurts far more when moving downhill.

Once the doctor appraises the general condition of the joint, he will most likely order a battery of tests to better understand the nature of the injury. These additional tests may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging or computerized axial tomography. These tests in addition to the the history of the patient and their activities will, in most cases, reveal the true extent of the problem.

Prescribed Treatment

There are no real surprises when it comes to the treatment of either type of runner’s knee. The primary treatments are simple and include:

  • Extended Rest – As with any repetitive stress injury, eliminating the actual stress is paramount even to the point of placing no weight on the joint. Athletes and exercise addicts may not want to face the truth but allowing the joint to heal is the best, most effective treatment. It is also recommended to keep the joint elevated when resting.
  • Apply Ice – The swelling of the knee joint, though your body’s way of trying to minimize any damage, produces it owns stresses – including pain! The judicious use of ice is one way to ameliorate this situation. An ice pack applied every four hours for 20-30 minutes is the best course of action.
  • Use Physical Compression – Similarly, elastic bandages can slow the excess flow of blood and other fluids into the affected area and help the healing process. One note of warning, these compresses can get rather comfortable but do not leave them on overnight.Knee pain
  • Consider Anti-Inflammatory Painkillers – There are several name-brand and generic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) available that will help with pain and swelling. Consult your physician for which one is best for you.