With minimal gear requirements and no need for a special court or field to compete, running is truly one of the most accessible forms of sport. In fact, nearly 19 million people competed in a running event in the United States in 2014! That's an impressive number, and it doesn't even account for the numerous runners who don't compete in organized events and simply run for their own exercise and pleasure.
With so many Americans pounding the pavement or hitting the trails, running injuries make up a significant portion of sports injuries every year. Over the course of several posts, we'll take a look at some of the most common running injuries so you can run smarter and safer! First up, runner's knee.
Runner's Knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, occurs when the cartilage under the kneecap becomes irritated. Runners typically notice pain under or around the kneecap and may or may not experience swelling. The pain usually intensifies during or after long runs, after extended periods of sitting, or while descending hills and stairs.
There are several factors that contribute to the development of runner's knee. Runner's knee can result from:
- Overuse - repeated bending, high-stress exercises, and overstretched tendons can all irritate the knee joint
- Overpronation - the inward rolling of the arches of the foot add extra stress to the knee joint
- Weak Supporting Muscles - weak quads, glutes, and hamstrings can contribute to muscle imbalance, improper alignment, abnormal wear, and pain
- Running on uneven surfaces - uneven surfaces can strain the knee joint and alter a runner's normal stride
- Bad shoes - old, worn out shoes, shoes that don't fit properly, or shoes that lack proper support can all add extra stress to the knee
Treatment and Prevention
Although severe cases might require a trip to a doctor, most cases of runner's knee can be effectively treated with simple interventions. To treat runner's knee and prevent future injuries:
- Take extra rest days, reduce your mileage, or stop running completely while the pain persists. You should not run if your knee hurts, so monitor your pain and respond accordingly. In the meantime, try biking, using an elliptical machine, or swimming. These lower-impact activities are great ways to keep up your exercise routine while giving your knee a break.
- To reduce the stress on your knee while running, try shortening your stride and landing with your knee slightly bent. Additionally, try to avoid downhill running, which can exacerbate pain.
- Try ice and anti-inflammatory medications (Advil, Aleve, Motrin) to help with pain and swelling.
- Invest in a pair of supportive shoes and consider orthotics or arch supports if you have flat feet and overpronate.
- Strengthen and stretch the muscles that support the knee joint, including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Strong muscles will help the knee track properly and reduce pressure on the joint.
- Until the supporting muscles are properly strengthened, try a patellar strap or knee brace to support the joint while exercising.
Runner's knee is a common running injury, but with proper treatment and prevention, you can get back to logging miles in no time. Want to learn more about runner's knee and other common running injuries? Follow our blog or contact us today!