Avid runners can experience pain for a number of reasons, from simple trauma (banging the leg against something) to muscle spasms (usually the result of improper stretching). When running and jogging are consistently painful, however, the problem could be runner’s knee. Exercise enthusiasts should always pay attention to pain and respond accordingly. Before panicking over persistent knee pain, however, it’s important to understand what runner’s knee is and how to recognize it.
Recognizing Runner’s Knee
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), the medical term for runner’s knee, is a persistent irritation localized at the juncture of the patella and femur—the “top” side of the kneecap. It’s commonly associated with running and jogging, hence its lay name. PFPS is characterized by a dull knee pain that sufferers describe as “behind” or “around” the top of the kneecap.
Exercise and activity can aggravate runner’s knee injuries, particularly when the direction is downhill such as descending stairs or running on a decline. Squatting and sitting for long periods can also be problematic for people dealing with PFPS. There is likely also knee pain associated with resisting leg extensions. The kneecap itself may be adversely sensitive to pressure.
PFPS vs. Patellar Tendonitis
As noted above, PFPS produces pain localized on the upper side of the kneecap. If the pain manifests “inside” or “below” the kneecap, the condition in question is more likely patellar tendonitis—an inflammation of the tendon connecting the patella to the shin muscle. Patellar tendonitis results from a different kind of injury than does PFPS, though the only sure way to get a diagnosis is by meeting with a certified doctor, preferably an orthopedist.
Misconceptions About PFPS
PFPS can strike anyone who actively and/or aggressively uses the legs and knees for work or recreation. While less common among active children, there is a higher tendency for this kind of knee pain among women runners. The reasons for this correlation remain unclear; however, recent research has disproven the so-called “Q-angle” theory that the wider hips of female physiology render women more susceptible to runner’s knee.
In the last decade, science focused on PFPS has discovered that the knee actually moves differently during runs or squats than it seems to the person exercising. Although it feels like the kneecap “tracks” outward when running or squatting, it’s actually the femur that is rotating above and around the patella. This fact explains why PFPS sufferers generally also have weakened hip abductor and external rotator muscles. In fact, the most successful physical therapy regimens for runner’s knee all involve strengthening these muscles to help stabilize knee movement and reduce irritation.
Sarasota Orthopedic Associates offers customized pain management treatment plans for runners and athletes throughout the Gulf Coast of Florida. Fill out our contact form to schedule your appointment today.