Runner's knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), is a pain in the knee which can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. It is especially common in runners which is why it is commonly known as runner's knee.
Runner's knee refers to a set of symptoms related to the cartilage in the knee and the patella. The patella, more commonly known as the kneecap is a thick bone which articulates with the femur and protects the surface of the knee joint. Runner's knee is caused by contact between the back of the kneecap and the femur - the thigh bone. As the knee is flexed and extended, the patella slides and causes friction. The cartilage of the patella, which is a smooth substance that allows it to slide on the femur, is then irritated and causes pain.
The following symptoms all relate to knee pain:
- Pain whilst doing sport (running, tennis, cycling)
- Pain whilst taking the stairs
- Pain when sitting for prolonged periods of time
- Pain in front of the knee or in the hollow of the knee
- Sensation of knee blockage or instability
- Knees clicking
Although anyone can be affected by patellafemoral pain syndrome, athletes and especially runners are most often affected. There are also several risk factors which can make you more susceptible to this syndrome, such as anatomical abnormalities, muscular dysfunction or a history of trauma or knee surgery. External risk factors, such as the type of sport practiced and the type of surface or footwear used, can also influence the onset and intensity of runner's knee. It should also be noted that runner's knee is more common in women than in men.
The treatment of runner's knee is mainly focused on the muscular rehabilitation of the quadriceps, hamstrings, but also the calves. This must be done carefully and painlessly. Rehabilitation with targeted and personalized physiotherapy is also effective. For athletes, it is advisable to stop exercise, at least until the pain has subsided. Cycling can still be practiced as well as swimming, but breaststroke should be avoided, with front crawl being a better option. Cold applied to the knee can also decrease and relieve pain.
Other means of relieving symptoms include:
- avoiding repetitive stress on the knee
- applying ice to the knee for up to 30 minutes to relieve pain and swelling
- avoid applying heat to the knee
- using an elastic bandage to apply compression and restrict swelling
- keep the leg elevated as to avoid further swelling
- taking over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen
The symptoms of runner's knee can usually be relieved at home through following the aforementioned steps as well as recommended exercises specifically used to treat knee pain. However, if the symptoms don't alleviate or worsen after a week, it is advisable to see your GP for further examination. Your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist for furthe treatment.