How to treat your runner’s knee and how to ease back into your regular training

Post In: Compression and Cold Relief
How to treat your runner’s knee and how to ease back into your regular training

We can run away from the pain, but there’s no running away from facts: you don’t need to run to get the dreaded runner’s knee. 

Also known as “chondromalacia patellae”, runner’s knee occurs when the cartilage of the patella’s (kneecap) undersurfaces.

In this article, we’ll talking about what causes runner’s knee and how to best treat it with ice packs and other tips.

Does running cause runner’s knee?

As its name suggests, runner’s knee is commonly caused by running, but any physical activity that causes repeated stress on the knee joints can also lead to injury. Activities like walking, skiing, biking, jumping, soccer and many others are known to cause runner’s knee. Harvard Medical School’s Health Publishing has found that runner’s knee is more common in women than men, especially women in their middle age who’ve been running for many years.

However, don’t be quick to take out running as an activity right away. A chapter in the book Running Science shows that people who run regularly and have done so in the past were less likely to have frequent knee pain than non-runners. They’ve deduced that running won’t necessarily destroy your knees, but being overweight will.

What are the symptoms of runner’s knee?

There’s pain in and around the kneecaps, and this is felt more when you’re moving or are active. 

You’ll know you have runner’s knee when there’s pain in your knees after sitting for a prolonged period of time with your knees bent. Then, when you bend or straighten your knee, you hear and feel rubbing, clicking , popping or grinding sensations and sounds. 

Additionally, your kneecap will be tender to the touch. In severe cases, pain in and around the kneecaps are consistent throughout the day, and sudden flares up occur when doing ordinary activities like walking or climbing up stairs.

The pain is usually not felt when you’re lying down, standing or sitting comfortably in one spot.

One thing to know is that runner’s knee is not caused by a sudden injury or trauma. It’s an injury that’s very gradual and slowly worsens over time. 

Runner’s knee also does not cause swelling or bruising, but in some cases, minor swelling may be seen. 

What really causes runner’s knee?

Runner’s knee is classified as an overuse injury, where excessive and repetitive strain is placed on the knees. However, not all runners get runner’s knee. It’s been found that runners with flat feet or high arches are more prone to getting runner’s knee. Both conditions affect the knee and leg alignment. Runners with worn cartilage or those who have suffered from previous knee conditions and injuries are also likely to get runner’s knee. 

Non-serious runners and non-athletes can also be at risk for runner’s knee. When you’re not normally active and you engage in physical activities too soon and too frequently, you may also risk getting runner’s knee, especially if you don’t do adequate stretching prior to exercise. Those with arthritis, weak or tight thigh muscles and fractured kneecaps are also susceptible to getting runner’s knee. 

Runner’s knee diagnosis

A physician will normally obtain your complete health history and conduct a thorough physical examination in order to determine if you have runner’s knee. It’s important to rule out other conditions such as patellar tendinitis (jumper’s knee), meniscus tear and iliotibial band friction syndrome. X-rays are commonly used to diagnose runner’s knee. 

How to treat runner’s knee?

It’s quite a relief to know that unlike other sporting injuries, there is no actual tissue damage associated with pain in runner’s knee. The pain felt is not from broken bones or torn cartilage. The painful sensation comes from inflamed tissues surrounding the knee cap. 

Most often, the first step to treating runner’s knee is to use the RICE method:

R – Rest: Immediately stop any activity that puts pressure and stress on the affected knee. 

I – Ice: In order to reduce pain and swelling in the knees, apply an ice pack on the knee for up to 20 minutes at a time every four hours. Because the kneecap is tender, it’s suggested that a knee ice pack is used, especially one with straps. Knee ice packs like this one are flexible when frozen, so you can be rest assured that the pack contours comfortably around your knees. Having straps will help keep them in place as well. 

Alternatively, you can also use regular ice packs, ice wrapped in a towel or a package of frozen peas.

C – Compression: To restrict swelling, wrap your knee with an elastic bandage. Some knee ice packs come with adjustable straps so they work as compression bands as well. 

E – Elevate: To prevent fluid from going to the affected area (which causes swelling), the knee must be elevated above the level of the heart. You can place a pillow under your knee while lying down.

If you are still feeling uncomfortable, you may take additional pain relief after consulting with your physician. Over-the-counter pain relief such as aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen can help.

How can you get back to training?

It’s important that you follow the RICE method because once the pain and swelling has subsided, your physician may recommend physical therapy in order to restore the knee’s full range of motion and strength. 

Mild cases of runner’s knee often go away on their own, but proper rest (and we cannot further stress the RICE method) will help you get back to running and your usual activities sooner. 

Runner’s knee and cross-training

Once you feel you are able to get back to physical activities and put reasonable stress and pressure back on your knees, do not immediately jump back to your usual training or running routine. In addition to starting out slow, this is the perfect time to cross-train. Try low-impact activities such as swimming, cycling, deep water running, weight training and even yoga and Pilates. These will help strengthen the muscles surrounding the kneecap so that there’s added support when putting pressure back on the knees. Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises will help you get a strong core, which is important for stability and balance. Overall body strength and balance adds up to lessen stress on the knees. 

Runner’s knee and rehab exercises

If you really want to make sure that your knees are back in tip-top shape, try visiting a physical therapist. They can teach you how to properly stretch and introduce you to a new range of exercises in order to ease your way back to normal training. 

How to start running again after runner’s knee?

While we know that you’ve been itching to resume your old running routine, we highly suggest that you do not just jump back into your regular running regime. Start with a walk and jog routine. It might feel frustrating because your aerobic running level is surely much higher than this, but your knees need to be re-introduced to running. Start off slow and gradually increase your running intervals. Give your knees time to re-adapt to running.

How to prevent runner’s knee?

Prevention is better than cure, and if you’ve already had runner’s knee, you will know this all too well. 

To prevent runner’s knee from recurring, make sure to:

  • Keep up a regular exercise regimen.
  • Use shoe inserts (especially if you have overly arched or flat feet).
  • Wear shoes that have enough support.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Ensure you have adequate warm-up before any type of workout.
  • Limit running on hard surfaces.

Runner’s knee may set you back for a while, but consider it as a sign to slow down or vary your type of training. 

Are you suffering from runner’s knee? Feel free to contact us so we can discuss pain relief for your knees!

Back to blog