Runners, jumpers, and other athletes such as skiers, cyclists, and soccer players put heavy stress on their knees. Runner’s knee is a term used to refer to a number of medical conditions that cause pain around the front of the knee (patellofemoral pain). These conditions include anterior knee pain syndrome, patellofemoral malalignment, and chondromalacia patella.
The knee is a complex structure and is very sensitive. A number of factors can contribute to runner’s knee, including:
- Malalignment of the kneecap
- Complete or partial dislocation
- Tightness, imbalance, or weakness of thigh muscles
- Flat feet
Patellofemoral pain may be the result of irritation of the soft tissues around the front of the knee. Strained tendons are fairly common in athletes. Other contributing factors to patellofemoral pain include overuse, muscle imbalance and inadequate stretching. Pain that begins in another part of the body, such as the back or hip, may cause pain in the knee (referred pain).
In some people with runner’s knee, the kneecap is out of alignment. If so, vigorous activities can cause excessive stress and wear on the cartilage of the kneecap. This can lead to softening and breakdown of the cartilage on the patella (chondromalacia patella) and cause pain in the underlying bone and irritation of the joint lining.
What Does Runner’s Knee Feel Like?
Symptoms of runner’s knee are:
- Pain behind or around the kneecap, especially where the thighbone and the kneecap meet.
- Pain when you bend the knee — when walking, squatting, kneeling, running, or even sitting.
- Pain that’s worse when walking downstairs or downhill.
- Popping or grinding sensations in the knee.
To diagnose runner’s knee, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. You may also need X-rays, MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), CT (Computed Tomography) scans, and other tests.
When Will My Knee Feel Better?
There’s no good answer to when your knee will feel better. Recovery time depends on your particular case. Keep in mind that people heal at different rates.
While you get better, try out a new activity that won’t aggravate your runner’s knee. For instance, if you’re a jogger, do laps in the pool instead.
Whatever you do, don’t rush things. Don’t return to your old level of physical activity until:
- You feel no pain in your knee when you bend or straighten it.
- You feel no pain in your knee when you walk, jog, sprint, or jump.
- Your knee feels as strong as your uninjured knee.
- If you start using your knee before it’s healed, you could wind up with permanent damage.
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