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Treating Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

Whether you’ve been hitting the local Saturday morning run clubs, or are simply getting out for an afternoon jog -  knee pain is a common and uncomfortable occurrence for runners of all abilities. Aptly named ‘runner’s knee’, the injury can be caused by a variety of factors - but is very much treatable.

Depending on the severity of your knee pain, you may or may not need to take some time off running. To get you back on your feet (literally), this guide will outline everything you need to know about runner’s knee - from symptoms to causes, prevention, and treatment.


What Exactly is Runner’s Knee?

Dreaded by both weekend joggers and elite athletes, runner’s knee is a painful, mobility-restricting condition that affects the area around the kneecap. The medical term for this condition is patellofemoral pain (PFP) syndrome. 

According to the British Journal of Sports Medicine, runner’s knee occurs more commonly in women than men, with the pain affecting approximately 20% of females and 10% of males. 

Causes of Runners Knee

What Causes Runner’s Knee?

Runner’s knee is a chronic overuse injury, meaning that it is caused by repeated bending and stretching motions that place a high level of stress on the kneecap. This is by far the most common cause of the condition. 

In some cases, however, runner’s knee can occur as a result of a misalignment between the kneecap and the femur (thighbone). Weak muscles, external impact on the leg, and other issues can cause the kneecap to move out of position and cause knee injuries. 


Signs and Symptoms of Runner’s Knee

The most common symptoms of runner’s knee include:

  • A dull pain around the knee that intensifies during bending movements such as walking, running, squatting, or walking up and down stairs

  • A grinding or popping sound coming from the kneecap when bending or straightening your leg

  • A sensitive kneecap that is painful when touched or pressed

What Can You Do to Prevent Runners’ Knee?

To prevent runner’s knee, you need to avoid putting undue stress on your knees. Here are five tips that will help:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Excess body weight can place more stress on the load that your knees need to bear, especially when running. Keeping your weight at a healthy level can significantly lessen the strain on your knees.

  • Warm up with stretches: Before hitting the pavement, start with dynamic leg stretches to loosen up your muscles and prepare them for activity.

  • Progress gradually: Don't push your body into doing an intense session, particularly if you have not run for a while. Go slow and gradually increase distance or intensity to allow your body to adapt.

  • Invest in proper footwear: Choose well-fitting, supportive running shoes designed for your running style and terrain. If you are flatfoot, look for shoes with proper arch support.

  • Maintain proper running form: While running, lean slightly forward with your knees slightly bent to distribute the impact on your knees and maintain good alignment.

Signs and Symptoms of Runners Knee

Diagnosing Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

If you think that you have runner’s knee, you can approach your healthcare provider to get a diagnosis. Your GP or physio will diagnose runner's knee by evaluating overall health, exercise regime, and injury history, followed by a physical exam.

Depending on the state of your knee, X-rays may be required to check for any misalignments or other conditions that may be contributing to the pain. 


How to Treat Runner’s Knee

There are two main types of treatment for runner’s knee: short-term relief, and long-term rehabilitation. 

Short-term relief

Applying an ice pack to the knee for 20-30 minutes at a time can help to provide instant pain relief and numb the sensations of runner’s knee. Similarly, over-the-counter painkillers can work as well to reduce pain and inflammation around the knee, although these should be taken only after consulting your doctor, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions. 

Treatment of Runners Knee

Long-term rehabilitation

For some individuals, sufficient rest from activity and movements in the knee can allow it to recover normally, causing the symptoms of runner’s knee to gradually dissipate. However, persistent pain even after a rest period of a week is typically a sign that you may need more specialised treatment. 

In severe cases, a physio may recommend wearing a brace around your knee that restricts movement and provides additional support to the area. They will also (naturally) recommend that you attend regular physiotherapy sessions to strengthen and restore flexibility to the knee. 

Recovery Time from Runners’ Knee

Recovery from runner’s knee may take up to 2-4 weeks for mild cases, and 6-12 weeks for more severe cases. Attending physiotherapy sessions as treatment for runner’s knee has been proven to drastically speed up the recovery process. 

At Infinite Health, we have a team of physiotherapists that regularly treat runner’s knee. With our help, you can get back to doing what you love without being hindered by pain or discomfort in your knees. Book an appointment with us today for the best sports physiotherapy in Mosman, Sydney CBD, or Chatswood and start your journey towards recovery!


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