Runner’s knee is the common term used to describe any one of several conditions that cause pain around the kneecap, also known as the patella. These conditions include anterior knee pain syndrome, patellofemoral malalignment, chondromalacia patella, and iliotibial band syndrome.
As the name suggests, running is a common cause of runner’s knee, but any activity that repeatedly stresses the knee joint can cause the disorder. This can include walking, skiing, biking, jumping, cycling, and playing soccer.
According to the Harvard Medical School, runner’s knee is more common in women than in men, particularly in women of middle age. People who are overweight are especially prone to the disorder.
What are the symptoms of runner’s knee?
The hallmark of runner’s knee is a dull, aching pain around or behind the kneecap, or patella, especially where it meets the lower part of the thighbone or femur.
You may feel pain when:
- climbing or descending stairs
- sitting down or standing up
- sitting for a long time with the knee bent
Other symptoms include swelling and popping or grinding in the knee.
In the case of iliotibial band syndrome, the pain is most acute on the outside of the knee. This is where the iliotibial band, which runs from the hip to the lower leg, connects to the tibia, or the thicker, inner bone of the lower leg.
How is runner’s knee treated?
Your doctor will tailor your treatment to the underlying cause, but in most cases, runner’s knee can be successfully treated without surgery. Most often, the first step in treatment is to practice RICE:
- Rest: Avoid repetitive stress on the knee.
- Ice: To reduce pain and swelling, apply an ice pack or a package of frozen peas to the knee for up to 30 minutes at a time and avoid any heat to the knee.
- Compression: Wrap your knee with an elastic bandage or sleeve to restrict swelling but not too tightly as to cause swelling below the knee.
- Elevation: Place a pillow under your knee when sitting or lying down to prevent further swelling. When there is significant swelling, keep the foot elevated above the knee and the knee above the level of the heart.
If you need additional pain relief, you can take certain over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient found in Tylenol, can also help. You may want to talk to your doctor before taking these medicines, especially if you have other health conditions or take other prescription medications.
Once the pain and swelling has subsided, your doctor may recommend specific exercises or physical therapy to restore your knee’s full strength and range of motion. They may tape your knee or give you a brace to provide extra support and pain relief. You may also need to wear shoe inserts known as orthotics.
Surgery may be recommended if your cartilage is damaged or if your kneecap needs to be realigned.