Runner’s knee – getting back on your feet

Running feet on tarmac

Running is really taking off among people of all abilities, from the casual jogger to the serious competitor. And little wonder: running gets you out in the fresh air, it’s great exercise, and you don’t need much kit to do it.

However, running injuries can really set you back. Whether you’re experienced or just getting started, one of the most common problems that runners experience is runner’s knee. There’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk of getting runner’s knee. And if you do already suffer with it, there are numerous treatment options to get you back on your feet.

What is runner's knee?

There are many different causes of knee pain, so it’s important to get a professional diagnosis. The medical term for runner’s knee is patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Runner’s knee can hurt during or after activity, when climbing stairs, and even when you’ve been sitting for a long time. It isn’t just related to running and can develop as a result of any activity that puts pressure on your knees. So it could equally well be called ‘skier’s knee’ or ‘footballer’s knee’.

It can be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of runner’s knee, as there may be more than one reason for it. It could be due to overuse, or incorrect alignment of the joint. Problems elsewhere in the body, such as in your leg muscles, hips or feet, may also cause knee pain.

How is runner’s knee diagnosed?

Your doctor or physiotherapist will start by asking some questions and examining your knee in various positions. This is the main method of diagnosis if runner’s knee is suspected. They might recommend you have an X-ray. Less commonly, you may be advised to have an MRI or CT scan.

What is the treatment for runner’s knee?

Once it’s diagnosed, there are several self-help measures that your doctor may suggest.

  • Giving your knee a rest or modifying your workout.
  • Putting ice or a cold pack on your knee.
  • Taking a painkiller such as ibuprofen, if it’s suitable for you.
  • Taping your knee or wearing a brace.
  • Using supportive inserts in your shoes.

Stretching and strengthening exercises for the muscles around your knee are an important part of treatment. Exercises for other muscles in the legs and hips may also help. A physiotherapist can teach you how to do these exercises safely. The physiotherapist may offer to stretch or massage your legs.

Your physiotherapist can help to review your running programme before you go back to running. It can also be a good idea to review your running technique and your trainers.

How can I prevent it?

The good news is, you can do a lot to ensure runner’s knee doesn’t become a problem.

Warm up and stretch

Always warm up before you head out for a run or start your exercise. Once you feel warmer and looser, gently stretch the main muscles that you will be using. For running, these are the ones in your hip, thigh, and calves.

Exercises to strengthen your knees

Visit our knee clinic for more warm-ups and strengthening exercises especially for your knees.

Build up gradually

Build up the length and intensity of your training gradually, to develop your running and fitness without increasing your risk of injury. If you notice a niggle that isn’t getting better, listen to your body. Stop training, rest, and get advice from a physiotherapist.

Get the gear

A properly fitting pair of trainers is really all you need. Just make sure you replace them once they start wearing out.

Learn about our musculoskeletal services and discover the range of diagnostic techniques and clinical treatments we can provide to help you get back on your feet. Read more.

Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

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The Bupa knee clinic

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If you have injured your knee or have a long-term knee problem, the Bupa knee clinic can help you find the information and support you need.