Runner’s knee is the common term for any one of several conditions that cause pain in front, behind or around the kneecap, or patella. The most common of these conditions is patellofemoral syndrome, patellar tendonitis and anterior knee pain syndrome.
As the name indicates, this condition is often associated with running; however, it can also result from other athletic activities that place significant stress on the knee, such as basketball, skiing, soccer and cycling. Runner’s knee is one of the most common chronic knee injuries and is more often seen in women than in men.
Causes of Runner’s Knee
Runner’s knee often develops as a result of overuse of and repeated stress on the knee. A change in the frequency, intensity or duration of physical activity, such as running or cycling longer distances or exercising more days per week, can also bring on this condition.
Poor exercise practices or improper sports training or equipment may also be risk factors. Muscle imbalance or weakness, misalignment in the kneecap or leg, and problems with the feet are associated with a higher risk for developing this condition as well. In some cases, direct trauma to the kneecap or dislocation of the knee can lead to runner’s knee.
Runner’s Knee Diagnosis
After taking a medical history, the doctor will perform a physical examination to evaluate the knee’s stability and alignment, and to determine the location and scope of the pain and swelling. An X-ray can reveal abnormalities in the position and alignment of the kneecap, and if instability is suspected, a CT scan may be ordered. An MRI can also be useful in diagnosing runner’s knee, as it can determine the extent of softening or injury to the cartilage in the kneecap.
Treatments for Runner’s Knee
The RICE technique – rest, ice, compression and elevation – is the first step in the treatment of runner’s knee. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help to decrease pain and swelling.
Physical therapy or rehabilitation may be recommended in order to strengthen the knee and help restore a full range of movement. If the cartilage in the kneecap is damaged or misalignment issues are found, surgery may be advised.