Syracuse Area Health – Strasburger Orthopaedics

What is Runner’s Knee?

Runner’s knee is often used as an umbrella term for aches and pains in the knee common among runners, joggers, and other athletes. Most commonly, runner’s knee refers to pain which is a dull ache originating under the kneecap, or patella, on the front of the knee.

Construction of the Knee

The area under the patella consists of a layer of cartilage, which protects the knee and allows the knee joint to bend easily. Over time, wear and tear to the cartilage makes it break down, and eventually the patella and the knee joint itself begin to make contact, causing pain. This condition is called chondromalacia.

What Causes Runner’s Knee?

Runner’s knee is caused of repetitive stress on the knee over time, although an impact can also do damage to the cartilage and cause faster breakdown. Running and jogging on hard surfaces that send jolts of impact up the knee as well as running on stairs can cause breakdown of the cartilage over time.

Runner’s knee can also be triggered by engaging in any activity that puts a stress load on the knee cap. This could be from cycling, skiing or snowboarding, weightlifting, working in a warehouse or factory that requires heavy lifting, and even household chores like scrubbing the floor or gardening.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), other health issues can also contribute to runner’s knee, including a misaligned kneecap, injury to the knee (such as a strained tendon), imbalance, weakness, or tightness in the muscles of the thigh, and flat feet.

Treating Runner’s Knee

The first line of treatment for this condition is simply to rest the knee, which means stopping any activity which might have contributed to the pain. The AAOS also recommends “RICE” (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) as an appropriate treatment for runner’s knee:

  • Rest: Avoid putting weight on the affected knee.  
  • Ice: Apply ice packs to the knee for 15 minutes every three or four hours.
  • Compression: Use an elastic knee sleeve/bandage with a hole for the kneecap. This will ensure it fits snugly without putting painful pressure on the patella.
  • Elevation: Keep the affected knee propped up (higher than your heart).

If you have no contraindications, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, can be helpful to alleviate pain. In many cases, those with runner’s knee will find their symptoms subside, and they are able to gradually return to normal activity without pain.  

However, if rest and RICE are not providing you with any relief for your knee pain, call Strasburger Orthopaedics to make an appointment to evaluate the severity of your chondromalacia. There are a number of non-surgical and surgical options available to repair the damaged knee joint and relieve your pain.