Running is a hobby (or sport, depending on who you ask) like no other — it’s a great way to stay in shape and see the world, it’s free to do and it brings together many likeminded people. Running, for the most part, is also safe and easy, but, if you’re not careful, it can lead to injury and cause problems with your mobility.
One common affliction that many runners face is a condition called runner’s knee. Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), runner’s knee affects people for different reasons and at different intensities, so by understanding the symptoms and causes, you can take steps to treat and, even better, prevent it in the future.
The symptoms of runner’s knee are either a sharp, sudden pain or dull, chronic ache usually behind or around the knee (also called the patella), and can feel like a sense of cracking or like the knee is giving out. Often the pain will disappear during a run but will return shortly after. Runner’s knee generally affects women more commonly than men, and strikes mostly younger, recreational runners. It can happen in just one or both knees.
The causes of runner’s knee are different from person to person, but is commonly due to poorly conditioned quadriceps and tight hamstrings. When quadriceps are weak, they are not able to support the knee, leading it to move out of alignment with every step. On top of that, inflexible hamstrings can put undue pressure on the knee.
There are other causes, too. It might be that the knee is larger on the outside than it is on the inside, or that it sits too high or that it simply dislocates easily. If the cartilage in the knee is weak or worn out, then there is less shock absorption. If a runner has too high of arches or too flat of feet, the knee might be put under added strain during a run. Even if one’s body is perfectly built for running, the continued and repetitive impact of running is sometimes enough to bring on runner’s knee.
Considering all of that, it might seem like you are doomed to suffer runner’s knee simply by being a runner. But there are measures you can take to prevent it from being a problem for you. You can try running on softer surfaces — running on concrete is high impact and can cause the most damage so seek out a grass track or field. Also, when you are increasing your mileage, keep it to a 10 per cent per week increase so that your knee and muscles are able to properly develop. You should also make sure that you are wearing the proper shoes. Visiting a specialty running shop so that you can get fitted for the right kind of shoes for your body type and foot shape will do wonders. And if you need to wear a brace, ensure that it is good quality and the right fit for your body.
In order to prevent the pain and discomfort of runner’s knee, take the time to properly stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles before a run. If you do start to feel the symptoms of runner’s knee but still want to run, decrease your mileage and switch to soft surface running. You can also visit your local physiotherapist, who will give you advice and exercises to strengthen your muscles and protect your knees.
Running is a great activity to take up and has a myriad of health benefits, but it is easy to push things too far. Your mobility is something you are going to want to have for a long, long time so the best thing you can do for your body is to take preventative measures by stretching, slowly building up your muscle and wearing the proper footwear.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of runner’s knee and would like to book an appointment with one of our experienced physiotherapists, we would be happy to help relieve your pain and get you on the path of healthy knees.