With more and more people taking to running as a form of exercise, it becomes necessary to know how to protect our knees so that we can continue running without knee damage. The article throws light on the condition runner’s knee.
Running as a fitness activity has really caught on in urban India and while this step towards physical wellness is to be welcomed for sure, being aware of the side-effects of running is important to protect the knees and to continue running.
Runner’s knee refers to the pain usually experienced around the front part of the knee. While the word runners might lead to people assuming that only runners are afflicted with this condition, it needs to be clarified that while runners are more prone to it because of the overuse of the knee joint, others with certain risk factors can also sustain it.
Understanding the Cause of Runner’s Knee
The knee cap or the patella is the triangular bone at the front of the knee. This knee cap safeguards the knee joint and performs the crucial role of supporting the knee joint when the leg is bent and straightened.
On bending the knee, the knee cap slides over the cartilage of the thigh bone. The knee cap is attached to both the thigh and the shin bone with tendons and ligaments. If any of these many components do not move smoothly, the knee cap ends up rubbing against the thigh bone resulting in its damage. This condition is called runner’s knee.
The Various Factors That Lead to Runner’s Knee
- Repeated stress on knee joint due to high-impact activities.
- Any kind of damage to the knee like a fall, an accident or a blow.
- Congenital defect in knee joint.
- Weak thigh muscles.
- Muscle imbalance between the front and the back of the thighs.
- Not performing adequate warm-up exercises before starting an activity.
Risk-Factors for Runner’s Knee
While running and high-impact activities are known causes of runner’s knee, listed below are a few other factors that increase a person’s risk for the condition:
- Women are more at risk than men. This could be because women have lower muscle mass than men and this results in the knee joint taking up more load.
- Growing children are more susceptible to the condition as the muscles and bones could experience a sudden growth spurt resulting in temporary imbalances.
- A person having flat feet (feet without arches) is more at risk as the knees take more pressure.
- Prior injury to the knee increases the chances of a person developing runner’s knee.
- Runner’s knee is sometimes a symptom of arthritis. The inflammation resulting from arthritis prevents the smooth movement of the knee cap.
Symptoms of Runner’s Knee
- Pain around the knee area, usually closer to where the knee meets the thigh bone.
- Pain felt while walking, running, squatting, taking the stairs, etc.
- Pain experienced while sitting down or standing up.
- Pain felt after prolonged periods of sitting.
- Swelling at the knee.
- Popping or grinding sensation at the knee.
Diagnosing Runner’s Knee
The doctor will start off with a physical examination to find out the exact area of pain. He will also try to determine any misalignment which may be a cause for the condition.
The following imaging tests may be required:
- An x-ray to detect arthritis, misalignment or any kind of bone damage.
- An MRI to check for cartilage damage.
Your doctor will first try non-invasive treatment options as surgery is rarely needed for runner’s knee.
- As with most joint pain treatments, RICE is what will be tried first.
- Rest – Rest your knee when pain is felt and do not continue running on a painful knee. Avoid any kind of stress to the knee.
- Ice – Ice the knee area with an ice pack wrapped in a thin cloth. Icing can be done intermittently for 30 minutes, 3-4 times a day. Do not apply warm compress to the knee.
- Compression – Wrap the knee with a bandage to control swelling but take care to not wrap it too tightly as this might result in swelling below the knee.
- Elevation – While resting, keep a pillow under the knee to control swelling. If this does not work, keep the leg elevated so that the foot is higher than the knee.
- If the pain is not controlled with RICE, NSAIDs can be taken for pain relief. NSAIDs can have side-effects so it is best to get the doctor’s advice before taking them. For those having other health conditions, a doctor’s advice is essential before NSAIDs’ consumption.
- When the pain has been controlled, physical therapy will be started to strengthen the knee and to restore mobility. Braces might be given for additional knee support. Orthotics might also be prescribed.
- Arthroscopic surgery might be recommended when none of the above options work and pain is severe. The procedure involves making small incisions through which a camera and instruments will be inserted. With the guidance of the camera, the surgeon will be able to see the exact cause of the condition and will then proceed to repair it.
Preventing Runner’s Knee
Maintain Optimum Weight: Being overweight increases the stress on the knee and this stress is further magnified while running. So, shedding those excess kilos will definitely help the knees.
Don’t Miss Warm-ups and Stretches: Before going for a run, a 5-minute warm-up followed by stretches will help immensely. It is especially important not to skip warming-up when increasing work-out intensity. Warm-ups not only protect us from knee injuries, they also reduce the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis later on in life.
Strengthen Supporting Muscles: Perform weight training exercises to strengthen quadriceps, hamstrings, etc.
Step-by-Step Increase in Workout Intensity: Any increase in workout intensity should be gradual.
Proper Shoes: Do not use old, worn-out shoes. Make sure shoes have good shock absorption and are comfortable to wear. Talk to your doctor about orthotics if you are concerned about flat feet.
Wear Knee Pads: If any activity involves kneeling for prolonged periods, protecting the knees with knee pads will help.
Maintain Good Running Form: While running, don’t lean forward or backward too much; keep core tight and knees bent. Avoid running on hard surfaces like concrete. When running downhill, maintaining a zig-zag pattern will help.