Runner’s knee, the common term for patellofemoral pain syndrome, is a knee problem that affects many people. It happens when your kneecap (patella) is either misaligned because of a defect, or your knee is stressed, causing it to be out of alignment. Although it is painful, runner’s knee is usually not a serious knee injury, although it can have a significant impact on your life by limiting your activity. How much do you know about runner’s knee? Here are some facts about the condition that might surprise you.
1. You don’t need to be a runner to get runner’s knee.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome is called runner’s knee because it affects a lot of runners. However, many people who never run anywhere also develop runner’s knee. It’s like people who don’t golf can get golfer’s elbow, or those who don’t play tennis can get tennis elbow. Anyone who participates in an activity that bends the knee and puts a lot of strain on it is at risk of developing runner’s knee. This includes cycling, walking, jumping or climbing up and down stairs.
2. Repetitive movements can irritate your knee.
Do you have a job that requires you to bend and squat a lot? When you squat repeatedly, your knee makes the same movement and carries your body’s weight in the same places over and over again. You could be squatting to lift boxes, pick items off the floor, or reach lower shelves. Even parents of young children who have to pick them or their playthings off the floor are at risk of irritating their knees to the point of developing runner’s knee.
3. Your hamstring could be causing runner’s knee.
Your hamstrings are really three muscles in the back of your thigh. They help you extend and retract your leg. You may feel your hamstrings pull if you bend at your waist without bending your knees or you straighten your legs in front of you while sitting on the floor. When your hamstrings are too tight, they cause extra stress on your knees and could cause runner’s knee. Exercises and stretches to loosen the hamstrings can help reduce knee pain and keep it from coming back.
4. Your glutes can also cause runner’s knee.
Like your hamstrings, your gluteus medius, a muscle in your buttocks, may also be the culprit behind your runner’s knee. Instead of being too tight, like the hamstrings, if your gluteus medius, or glutes, are not tight enough, the rest of your leg tries to compensate. This puts stress on your knee. The gluteus medius is responsible for helping to pull your leg away from your body and rotate it externally. This is called hip abduction. If the muscle isn’t strong enough, the other muscles respond by trying to pull the leg inward instead.
5. Flat feet can equal knee pain.
Your feet play a vital role in your knees’ health. If you have flat feet, a low arch, or no arch at all, this puts your feet in an unnatural position when you step forward, particularly when you run. The impact of walking or running without arch support can cause extra tension on the muscles in your legs and pull on the knee, causing misalignment and stress. Wearing appropriate shoes and orthotics in your shoes can help fix how your foot lands when you take a step, taking stress off your legs and knees.
6. Where you exercise could cause runner’s knee.
Concrete and asphalt are unforgiving surfaces. If you’re running or playing sports on these hard surfaces, the stress on your legs and knees could cause runner’s knee. The solution is to run or play on more forgiving surfaces, like synthetic tracks, grass or dirt. This is also where good shoes appropriate for the activity are beneficial. They can help absorb some of the shock of running and jumping, taking away some of the stress on your knees.
7. Women are more prone to developing runner’s knee.
Doctors aren’t entirely sure why more women than men develop runner’s knee, but overall women do develop more knee problems. A woman’s pelvis is wider than a man’s. This wider pelvis affects how a woman stands and places a different type of pressure and strain on the knee. As well, women tend to have looser ligaments, the tough fibrous tissue that connects bones. Women also land on their feet differently when they run or jump, adding to the difference in knee stress.
8. Runner’s knee can be easy to treat.
Once you know what is causing your runner’s knee, it can be fairly easy to treat. If it is caused by improper foot support, good shoes or orthotics will help. If it’s caused by too tight ligaments or muscles, physical therapy and exercise can ease the pain and reduce the risk of it returning. Muscles too weak? Strengthening them at home or in a gym will help. Running on a hard surface? Switch locations for a gentler landing when you run or jump. The key is working at it and staying consistent.
9. Surgery is rarely necessary for runner’s knee.
Doctors only consider surgery for runner’s knee if you have tried non-surgical treatment for 24 months and you still have pain. It’s rarely necessary. If you have runner’s knee and you have faithfully tried all the exercises and changes recommended by your doctor or physical therapist, an orthopedic surgeon will assess you to see if surgery will help.
The Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Oregon is an award-winning, board-certified orthopedic group located in downtown Portland Oregon. We utilize both surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors and congenital disorders.
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