What Exactly is Runner’s Knee and What Can I Do About it?

what exactly is runner's knee and what can i do about it

You are a runner and you have a painful knee. You will most likely be diagnosed with runner’s knee, but there is a bit more involved than just this lump term. Calling it runner’s knee is something like saying you have sciatica. Neither is a diagnosis per se, but more like overall symptoms of an underlying problem.

Typically runner’s knee is either patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) or iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), both of which are repetitive strain injuries. Here we will look at how to tell the difference and what can be done if you have PFPS or ITBS.

Symptoms of PFPS

  • The pain is located in front just below the kneecap, but may also have pain that is hard to pinpoint as far as location anywhere on the front of the knee. May vary in intensity.
  • Pushing in on the kneecap causes pain.
  • Onset of symptoms happens gradually.
  • Running uphill or going up stairs brings pain.
  • It is also common among people who sit for long periods of time.
  • Deep knee bends hurt.
  • Common in people with flat feet.
  • Rarely noticeable swelling occurs.

Symptoms of ITBS

  • Pain is more in a defined location, and will always be on the outer part of the knee.
  • Pushing on the knee doesn’t cause pain.
  • Pain is worse when running down hill or going down stairs.
  • No swelling.
  • Quicker onset of symptoms, but not sudden. 

The good news is recovery is possible with either PFPS or ITBS. It is best not to ignore any symptoms, but jump on it quickly by discussing any issues with your doctor for a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan.

Typically it is advised that you rest your knee early on. As you can tolerate it, it may be recommended you run as long as it is without pain. It may be you can only do so a few times a week or for a short period of time with each run. This will help damaged tissue heal and keep the knee adapted to running. Physical therapy is usually prescribed.

There are some things you can do on your own. Often knee pain is actually coming from weak hip muscles. Strengthening the outer hip muscles can help in alignment of the knees when you run. Regular massage of the hip and leg muscles may also help. Good shoes that are comfortable and reduce impact are a must. Special straps can help spread the pressure and take stress off of specific areas, especially above the knee where the iliotibial band gets tight and creates friction. Braces can provide feedback as you run keeping you aware of any issues as well as help in keeping the knee tracking properly. Kinesiology Tape is also a good option.