Runner's Knee: Causes, Prevention and Recovery


We are continuing our series on some of the most common injuries for runners, focusing on the dreaded 'Runner's Knee.'


What is Runner's Knee?

Runner's knee is a common term used for a number of different knee problems which can be caused by the strain of running. These conditions include iliotibial band syndrome, patellofemeral malalignment, chondromalacia patellae and others (you can see why they've been simplified to 'Runner's Knee'). 

As the kinds of Runner's Knee vary, so do the symptoms. Generally speaking, if you suffer from knee pain during or after a run, you may be suffering from Runner's Knee. There's no one-size-fits-all solution for curing Runner's Knee and it's important that you seek medical advice if you suffer from persistent pain. 

What causes it?


The repetitive strain of bending your knee over and over again, or your foot hitting the ground repeatedly, can put a lot of strain on the joint. In some cases, this can cause damage to tissues around the kneecap. 


Some people's bones simply don't line up right. If any of your bones from your hip to your ankle are out of place, this can cause issues elsewhere. While many people with malalignment can go most of their life without knowing anything about it, it is very difficult not to notice if you're a runner. If your knees point inwards, your feet point outwards, or you often hear clicking or popping sounds from your joints, you may have bone malalignment. 

Weak or tight muscles

Your quadriceps (the long muscles that run down the front of your thighs) keep your kneecap aligned when you bend or stretch the joint. If your quadriceps are too tight or weak, this can have an impact on your knee. 

Over or under pronation

Pronation is the way that your foot rolls when it hits the ground, and if you are striking the ground at an odd angle, this can cause problems. One of the most common injuries caused by over or under pronation is iliotibial (IT) band syndrome. 


How can I prevent it?


A number of knee problems are caused by tightness in certain muscles. It's really important to stretch after every run: your quads, IT bands, calves, hamstrings and glutes in particular. Foam rolling is key too!

Buy properly fitted running shoes

Issues with pronation and malalignment can be aided with a pair of properly fitted running shoes so be sure to get a gait analysis before buying.

Build up gradually

Overuse injuries can be avoided by increasing the mileage and intensity of your training plan gradually. Stick to the 10% rule and don't increase your total weekly mileage by more than 10% each week.

Do strength training

Weakness in muscles such as the quads or glutes can cause knee problems, so it's only logical to ensure that you spend some time building strength in these areas. Opting for compound moves such as squats and deadlifts will not only improve strength in these muscles, but coordination between different muscle groups and, consequently, your running form. For endurance muscle, you don't need to be lifting super heavy weights. Go for bodyweight moves or use light weights - the key for endurance is high rep range. 



How can I recover from Runner's Knee?

Recovery exercises

If you do suffer from a knee injury, it's important to rest your knee and refrain from strenuous activity such as running or weight training. That being said, there are a number of no-impact exercises you can do to help strengthen the damaged muscles and ligaments around your knee. There are many good examples out there - like this one on Youtube - but a physiotherapist may recommend a variety of different exercises depending on your specific injury. 


Although the different types of Runner's Knee injuries require different treatment, the RICE rule almost always applies. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. 

See a Physiotherapist

Knee pain has a number of different possible causes and if you are suffering, it's important to go to a Physiotherapist to determine the best course of treatment for you. You can also go to see your GP, but it's likely that you will be given advice to rest and take painkillers which isn't all that helpful when you're trying to get back into training. A physiotherapist will be able to prescribe an effective recovery programme to get you up and running again. 

Which common running injury would you like us to cover next? Let us know in the comments!