Running offers many benefits, from improving cardiovascular health to helping alleviate stress.
However, running is considered a high-impact exercise – it is harder on the body compared to low-impact activities like walking or cycling. In turn, the risk of injury is greater when running.
According to Yale Medicine, an average of 50% or higher of people who run regularly will injure themselves every year – with the most common injuries being Runner’s Knee, iliotibial (IT) band friction syndrome, and stress fractures.
In this article, we will focus specifically on Runner’s Knee and its symptoms and treatments. Continue reading to learn about preventative measures you can take to avoid Runner’s Knee!
What is Runner’s Knee?
Runner’s Knee – also called Patellofemoral Pain (PFP) – is characterized by pain around the knee area including the front knee (the patella), under the kneecap, and the inner knee (the medial).
In a 2018 analytical review of studies on PFP, it was discovered that more than 22% of the general adult population and more than 28% of adolescents experience PFP each year.
A more recent 2021 article published by Baptist Health states that Runner’s Knee accounts for between 20% to 40% of all knee problems. Additionally, this article reports that Runner’s Knee is the most common running injury seen in sports medicine clinics, like Pacific Health.
What Causes Inner Knee Pain?
While running may be the primary source of Runner’s Knee and inner knee pain, it is not necessarily the root cause. There can be many causes behind this condition, including:
- Injury: Although you may feel the pain in your knees, injuries along the entire leg as a result of running or accidents (falls, collisions, etc.) can result in knee pain as well. This is especially true when it comes to the femur bone and hamstring muscles in the thigh that connect to the knee.
- Sprain: Sprains can occur in the knee while running for a variety of reasons, including overextending your legs or twisting your knees too much. Additionally, trauma to the outer, front part of the knee can result in a sprain on the inner knee.
- Overuse: Any type of exercise requires adequate rest for your body to recover, allowing the muscles to heal and strengthen. By not taking proper rest, runners can overuse their legs and knees to the point that an injury or strain occurs.
- Inflammation: Inflammation can be a result of injury, strain, and overuse. When the knee becomes swollen with inflammation, this can make the healing process more difficult. In some cases, inflammation may occur due to a lack of treatment or rest following an injury or strain.
- Structural Defect: In some cases, pain in the knee may come down to a structural defect in an individual’s bones or muscles. If this is the case, the pain will likely persist even with rest and a specialist should be contacted.
- Medical Conditions: Like with structural defects, some runners may experience Runner’s Knee through no fault of their own but rather due to underlying medical conditions. These conditions can include Osteoarthritis, meniscus injuries, and Rheumatoid arthritis. In addition to pain, symptoms of these types of conditions can include consistent stiffness in the joints and decreased mobility. If you suspect you are dealing with an underlying condition, contact a medical professional.
What are Runner’s Knee Symptoms?
Whenever you participate in a high-impact sport like running, it is crucial to know what the symptoms of Runner’s Knee are so you know what to watch out for.
According to John Hopkins Medicine, key Runner’s Knee symptoms to look for include:
- Pain in and around the knee during or after exercise
- Pain in and around the knee after knees are bent for a prolonged period
- Feelings of weakness or instability in the knees
- Loss of mobility or range of motion following exercise
- Tenderness on and around the kneecap
- Grinding, popping, or clicking sounds when the knee is flexed or stretched
How to Treat Runner’s Knee
Due to it being a very common and highly varied condition, Runner’s Knee does not always require medical intervention. There are many treatments – as well as preventative measures – you can take to heal the injury and avoid it in the future.
Here are 5 home remedies for Runner’s Knee to try out for your inner knee pain:
1. Ice Your Knees After Running
Icing your knees after running or whenever you feel knee pain will help to alleviate this pain, as well as ward off any persisting inflammation.
However, you should never ice your knees before running, as this can result in a numbing effect that makes you unaware of pain signaling you to stop.
If the pain persists for 2 or more days after running, you may be dealing with a more serious injury or strain that needs additional time to heal or the attention of a professional like a sports chiropractor.
2. Use a Knee Heating Pad
Although cold treatments like icing your knee can help with inflammation, knee heating pads can also help with pain alleviation. This is especially true for runners who are dealing with Runner’s Knee caused by underlying conditions as well as a general injury like a strain.
According to Very Well Health:
“For people with arthritis or other joint issues that have been present for longer than six weeks, heat can help reduce pain and soreness. It can also improve your knee’s flexibility and range of motion by relaxing the surrounding muscles before you stretch or begin an activity.”
Stretching the muscles around your knee, including the hamstrings, ‘quad’ muscles, and calf muscles after running, or taking time off from running when there is pain, so you can focus on stretching, is a great way to help you heal and recover. These muscles can put constant tension on the knee joint when they are tight- regular stretching is an effective preventative and recovery strategy that will help keep your knees healthy while you stay active!
Please, keep in mind that if stretching does not help to alleviate your pain, further investigation by your sports chiropractor or physiotherapist is recommended.
4. Change Your Footwear
As mentioned, running is a high-impact sport. If you do not have the proper footwear to support your legs and knees as your run, you are much more likely to develop Runner’s Knee.
The ideal footwear for running should be designed for the specific arch of your foot. Figuring out your arch is key, as it will help you find the right kind of shoe for your foot’s anatomy.
There are three types of arches a person can have – a neutral arch, a flat arch, and a high arch. Pacific Health can help determine your arch, recommend appropriate footwear, and provide custom orthotics.
5. Strength Exercises
Strength training is great for bulking up the muscles in your legs, making them more capable of handling the impact of running. To strengthen your knees, you will want to focus particularly on working out your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip muscles, and glutes. Calf exercises also help build strength in your lower leg.
When to See a Specialist About Runner’s Knee
It’s never a bad idea to see a specialist when you are experiencing pain due to exercise. However, there are a few cases in particular when you should consider going to see a specialist, including:
- When pain is persistent: If your pain persists after treatment, it may be time to seek professional help, as there may be a larger problem or underlying condition in need of assessment.
- If the pain is sharp: Sharp, piercing pain is a strong indicator of injury. If you experience this type of pain, contact a specialist or doctor as soon as possible.
- If you lose total mobility: While Runner’s Knee can affect your mobility temporarily, persistent loss of mobility is a cause for concern. Seek out a professional, such as a chiropractor, to have a look at your muscles and joints to identify why your mobility has not returned.
- If you feel numbness: Numbness in the knees, legs, or feet is rarely a good sign and can sometimes indicate a more complex health issue at hand. Note that this does not include the temporary numbness you may feel after icing your knees.
How to Prevent Runner’s Knee
- Improve Your Running Form and Technique: Pain in the knees while running can come down to something as simple as poor form. To have good running form, you should maintain strong back posture, keep your arms loose, and try to strike the ground with the middle of your foot rather than the heel or ball of the foot. Often local running groups or coaches can provide training.
- Get a Biomechanical Assessment: A functional movement assessment are performed by a chiropractor, physiotherapist, or similar professional to assess how a person’s bones, muscles, and joints interact in their lower body. Receiving this assessment can you identify issues in your posture and anatomy, as well as potential underlying conditions.
- Wear Appropriate Running Shoes: As we have covered, having the right shoes for your foot type is crucial. If you have not already, go to a proper shoe store and ask a qualified staff member to help fit you with the right type of shoe.
Final Thoughts: Additional FAQs to Consider About Runner’s Knee
Should I continue running with knee pain?
No! If you are experiencing pain, allow your body to rest. Low-impact exercises, like walking and stretching, can help you to recover faster.
Do knee braces work?
Knee braces can help give your knees greater stability while running. However, they should not be used as a primary treatment for knee pain. Rather, a knee brace is a good support tool for runners who consistently experience Runner’s Knee. Seek out a professional’s advice.
How long does Runner’s Knee last?
Runner’s Knee can last for up to 4 to 6 weeks, with the pain and swelling reducing over time. Recovery time is highly dependent on treatment and rest consistency.
How long until I can run again after having Runner’s Knee?
You should wait until the pain in your knee has subsided (without the influence of pain medications) before beginning to run again. If your pain persists longer than 2 days, despite resting, it may be time to see a specialist.
Is running on the road bad for knees?
Asphalt roads are harder surfaces than dirt paths or tracks, making the impact on your legs greater compared to running on alternative surfaces or treadmills. However, factors such as good form and proper recovery periods are much more important than running surface in terms of caring for your knees.