How to Treat and Prevent Runner's Knee
Whether you’re a leisure jogger or serious runner who racks up plenty of miles, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced knee pain or “runner’s knee” at some point.
Virtua senior physical therapist Scott Foster offers these tips to prevent runner’s knee as well as alleviate knee pain so you can get back on the road.
“Many runners have an imbalance between strength and flexibility in their muscles,” says Foster. After you’re warmed up, or once you’ve finished running and are still warm, stretch your hamstrings, quads, and iliotibial band (IT band)—the tissue that runs from the hips down the outside of the thigh—as well as your hips and calves. Holding the stretches for at least 30 seconds gives the best results, as tight hips and/or IT bands can lead to injuries and knee pain.
Strengthen your hips
“When people complain of knee pain or injuries, it could be related to what’s going on at their ankles and hips as well,” says Foster. If you’re suffering from pain around the kneecap (patellofemoral pain), it means the area under the kneecap is inflamed. This could be from running incorrectly, which could be due to weak hips. You can strengthen the hips with hip abduction exercises. An example would be to lie on one side with legs straight, and lift your top leg up in the air and then bring it back down. If you’re a gym member, you also can do this on the abduction (thigh) machine, where you’re seated and opening your legs to work the outer thigh.
“Ice is the best non-pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory out there but I don't think a lot of people want to spend time icing their knees after a run,” says Foster. “I recommend icing to prevent inflammation from happening in the first place and especially if someone has had inflammation from knee injuries or surgeries.” Do an “ice massage” for about 8-10 minutes along painful areas of the knee. Foster suggests freezing water in a foam coffee cup and then tearing off some of the foam so the ice directly touches the skin, while your hand is protected by the cup. For it to be most effective, you should perform small circular motions until the area is numb.
Beware of bracing overuse
“I cringe when I think about using bracing just for pain,” says Foster. “No matter how good the braces are, they’re going to restrict your body’s natural flow and function.” They provide support in some cases, and are fine to use after knee surgery, but relying on knee braces can cause further weakness in those muscles and can cause other knee problems, says Foster. He suggests that avid runners or athletes only use braces to help get back to their normal activity after surgery, and then, if possible, wean off of them so the body can maintain normal muscle strength and motor control on its own.
Updated March 15, 2017