What is runner’s knee?

One of the most common overuse injuries that runners get is “Runner’s Knee,” or PFPS (patellofemoral pain syndrome). This can refer to pain in the front of the knee, or around or under the kneecap.

In this five-part series, we’ll answer the following questions:

What is Runner’s Knee?

How do I know if I’ve got Runner’s Knee?

How is Runner’s Knee treated?

How can I prevent getting Runner’s Knee?

Can you “cure” Runner’s Knee?

What is Runner’s Knee?

Dr. Anita Rao, an Orthopedic Surgeon for Kaiser Permanente specializing in sports medicine, describes runner’s keen as “pain originating from the region of the kneecap (patella) as it glides with a portion of the thigh bone (femur) at the knee joint.” She explains that the exact cause of these symptoms is poorly understood, in part because there are so many factors involved.

Dr. Rao lists one common cause as “Maltracking of the kneecap during the gliding process with the thigh bone.” This can be caused by muscle weakness, tightness, or imbalance. When I was diagnosed two years ago with runner’s knee, it was likely due to an imbalance. Many times, runners who don’t cross-train or do resistance training have a stronger hamstring than quad or vice versa, depending on how and where they run.

Even though the hamstring and quad are the largest muscles around the knee, the iliotibial band or calf muscles can also be involved. Dr. Rao explains, “f the quadriceps are weak, for example, the resulting muscle imbalance can cause the kneecap to glide improperly, causing pressure, friction, and irritation to the undersurface of the kneecap. After continued maltracking, the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap can soften and degenerate, a condition known as chondromalacia. This can cause irreversible damage to the cartilage.”

Women are sometimes more likely to develop runner’s knee due to a naturally wider hip-knee angle.

Some other causes include overuse – excessive training, dislocation of the kneecap, or physical differences in runners such as being knock-kneed or having flat feet. Runner’s knee could even be the result or compensating for another injury, so it’s important to have your doctor evaluate your pain and running to determine the most likely cause.

Coming soon (we’ll link them up when they’re posted):
Part 2: How do I know if I have Runner’s Knee?
Part 3: How is Runner’s Knee treated?
Part 4: How can I prevent getting Runner’s Knee?
Part 5: Can you “cure” Runner’s Knee?

About Author

We started the Run Oregon blog in February 2007, because felt like running in Oregon and SW Washington deserved more positive coverage. We also wanted to level the playing field so that small, non-profit races could compete with big events; and to support local race organizers.

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