“Runner’s knee” is a somewhat broad and non-specific term that can be used to describe several conditions and, actually, it doesn’t just affect runners. Most often, this term is associated with knee pain around or behind the kneecap that is aggravated with repetitive activities like running, squatting or lunging exercises, upon standing up after sitting with your knees bent for a long period of time, or when walking down stairs. You might also hear it called patellofemoral pain syndrome (or PFPS) by a healthcare professional or a savvy friend or training partner.
Because the term “runner’s knee” could refer to multiple underlying conditions and because many of these conditions are not totally understood in regard to why they happen in the first place, let’s focus on what to do if you find yourself identifying with some of the symptoms listed above.
First and foremost, if you are experiencing these symptoms, go see a physical therapist – and the sooner, the better! As just previously mentioned, the cause of this type of knee pain has not been completely nailed down, but it can be associated with overuse. If you continue to participate in the activities (or perform at the activity level) that brought on these symptoms, you might be contributing to the problem. The “no pain, no gain” adage does not always apply. Additionally, if you wait to be assessed by someone licensed and trained to help navigate this kind of stuff, you could prolong your recovery time as well. Better to nip it in the bud.
Once you make it to physical therapy, what might you expect from treatment? Before treatment even begins, you’ll go through an evaluation during which your provider will measure your range of motion (ROM) and check out your flexibility and strength. They will likely look at how you move when you walk or run, what your form looks like when you squat, or how good your balance is. From there, you’ll work together on improving what impairments they find. If there are any glaring deficits in any of these items, especially the basics like ROM, flexibility and strength, that’s usually a good place to start.
And not only will your therapy provider assess and treat impairments just at the knee, they should also look for any deficits at the hip, foot, or ankle. A study by Mendonca and colleagues in 2018 reported on associations between knee pain and deficits at the hip and foot. They found that hip stiffness, altered foot alignment, and decreased hip strength were all related to patellar tendinopathy – one of those conditions that can sometimes fall under the “runner’s knee” umbrella.
With these considerations in mind – in addition to your individual needs found during the evaluation – and Orthology PT or Chiropractor can help with manual techniques for hip ROM and stiffness, possible orthotic or shoe recommendations for foot alignment, and a wide array of hip strengthening exercises.