Mark decided to try out for the varsity cross country team. Over the summer he bought a pair of running shoes and took up jogging. He started with short distances, but soon started increasing his mileage in an effort to get up to race distance in time for tryouts.
After a few weeks, though, Mark began noticing swelling and pain in his right knee. He went to see a doctor and was told he had runner's knee.
Runner's knee is the term doctors use for a number of specific conditions affecting the knee, such as patellofemoral pain syndrome and chondromalacia of the patella, to name just two. It's the most common overuse injury among runners, but it can also strike other athletes who do activities that require a lot of knee bending, such as biking, jumping, or skiing.
Runner's knee happens when the kneecap (patella) tracks incorrectly over a groove in the thighbone (femur) known as the femoral groove when you bend and straighten your knee. In healthy knees, the patella rests in the femoral groove and slides easily up and down when you use your knee. But when the patella is out of place, it can irritate the femoral groove and wear away the cartilage beneath the patella, leading to knee pain.
The most common symptom of runner's knee is tenderness or pain behind or on the sides of the patella, usually toward the center or back of the knee where the thighbone and kneecap meet. In addition, the knee might be swollen.
The pain will generally feel worse when bending the knee — when walking, kneeling, squatting, or running, for example. Walking or running downhill or even down a flight of steps also can lead to pain if someone has runner's knee. So can sitting for a long period of time with your knee bent, such as in a movie theater.
In some cases, someone with runner's knee may notice a popping or cracking sensation in the knee, as well as a feeling that the knee may be giving out.
If it goes untreated for a long period of time, runner's knee can damage the cartilage of the knee and hasten the development of arthritis.
If you see a doctor about pain in your knee, he or she will review your medical history and ask you questions about your symptoms and the activities you are involved in. Be sure to tell your doctor if you've increased how much time you spend at a certain activity or how often you do it.
The doctor will probably check the alignment of your kneecap, thigh, and lower leg, as well as look at your range of motion. Your doc will also check your kneecap for signs of tenderness or dislocation. You may be asked to squat, jump, or lie down so your doctor can assess your knee's strength and mobility.
In some cases, your doctor may order imaging tests like an X-ray or MRI to see if there is any damage to the structure of your knee or the tissues connected to it.
Runner's knee can happen for a variety of reasons, many of them having to do with the muscles and bones of the leg. Some of the more common causes are:
The good news about runner's knee is that you can take precautions to protect yourself against it. If you're going to be doing an activity that puts a lot of stress on your knees, follow these tips:
Treatment for runner's knee depends on the specific problem that is causing the pain. Fortunately, runner's knee rarely requires surgery, and most cases heal in time. Regardless of the cause of your particular case of runner's knee, here are some things you should do at the first sign of pain:
Rest: Try to avoid putting weight on your knee as much as you can.
Ice: Use a bag of ice wrapped in a towel or cold compress to help reduce swelling.
Compress: Wear an elastic bandage or snug-fitting knee sleeve with the kneecap cut out.
Elevate: Lie down and keep your knee raised higher than your heart.
On rare occasions, someone might need surgery for runner's knee. If your doctor decides this is your best option, he or she may recommend one of two surgeries:
Surgery is only used as a last resort, though. Most cases of runner's knee get better through routine care and rest.
Reviewed by: Kathleen B. O'Brien, MD
Date reviewed: June 2013
|American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) The AAOS provides information for the public on sports safety, and bone, joint, muscle, ligament and tendon injuries or conditions.|
|American College of Sports Medicine This site has tips on staying safe while playing sports and exercising.|
|Bursitis Bursitis, an irritation of the small fluid sacs that provide cushioning in some joints, is often caused by sports-related injuries or repeated use of a particular joint.|
|Safety Tips: Running Injuries can be common, and runners should always be aware of their surroundings. To keep things safe while running, follow these tips.|
|Jumper's Knee Jumper's knee is an inflammation or injury of the patellar tendon. Although it can seem minor, it's actually a serious condition that can get worse over time and ultimately require surgery if not treated.|
|Knee Injuries Healthy knees are needed for many activities and sports and getting hurt can mean some time sitting on the sidelines.|
|Knee Injury: Caroline's Story Caroline loved sports. But when an ongoing knee injury kept her from playing the sports she loved, she discovered new interests. Read her story.|
|How Can I Run Without Pain? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injuries ACL injuries - which are common in active and athletic people - happen when excessive pressure is put on the knee joint, resulting in a torn ligament.|
|Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injuries MCL injuries - which are common in active and athletic teens - happen when excessive pressure is put on the knee joint, causing a torn ligament.|
|Repetitive Stress Injuries Repetitive stress injuries happen when too much stress is placed on a part of the body, causing problems like swelling, pain, muscle strain, and tissue damage.|
|Sports and Exercise Safety Playing hard doesn't have to mean getting hurt. The best way to ensure a long and injury-free athletic career is to play it safe from the start. Find out how.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.