Common Knee Problems for Runners

Knee pain can occur in runners, either during or after a run. Common causes of pain in the knee are often treatable with proper training methods.

There are some common knee problems that many runners experience over the course of their running career. Pain may occur as a result of chronic overuse injuries in the patella, IT band or meniscus while torn ligaments or cartilage can cause knee pain after acute injury or chronic overuse. This can be helped by arthritis pain relief kits at home.

Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), Runner’s knee is a common overuse injury among runners, jumpers and soccer players. It’s often found in young female athletes, but can affect anyone. Pain is usually felt under the knee or around the front of the kneecap or patella. Many runners will notice the pain with bending, such as going up or down stairs, kneeling or squatting. Runner’s knee can be prevented by wearing proper shoes, running on level surfaces, stretching and increasing mileage slowly. Treatment includes the standard RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation), anti-inflammatory medications or physical therapy. Extreme cases may require surgery to realign the kneecap or clean up damaged cartilage.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome (IT Band Syndrome)

IT band syndrome is an overuse injury that occurs frequently in cyclists and runners. The IT band is a thick band of tissue that stretches from the top of the hip bone down to the knee. Friction during repetitive motion of the leg can lead to irritation. Athletes with IT band syndrome usually notice pain on the side of the knee. This can happen particularly with runners training with weeks of high mileage, interval training or hillwork.

Treatment of IT band syndrome for low mileage runners may be as simple as RICE, anti-inflammatories and change of activities until the knee pain subsides. Those runners training with high mileage may require more extensive treatment, such as physical therapy or cortisone injections. According to a 2005 study in American Family Physician, stretching does not seem to speed recovery, but strengthening exercises are helpful. Surgery is considered for patients who do not improve with conservative therapy.

Torn Meniscus

The meniscus is a shock-absorbing cushion in the knee joint that protects bones from pounding directly into each other with the force of activity. The meniscus is often referred to as cartilage in the knee. There are usually two menisci in the knee joint. The AAOS notes that meniscus tears are common running injuries that often occur when the knee is twisted. Most runners will notice pain and swelling around the knee after the injury. Torn cartilage can also occur with age as the meniscus becomes worn over time.

Patients may notice a pop when the meniscus is injured. The knee may also lock up or feel like it’s giving out. Treatment is similar to other knee problems. Mild swelling or pain from a tear on the outer edge of the meniscus may respond to RICE and anti-inflammatories, while more severe tears of the inner meniscus may require arthroscopic knee surgery.

Torn Ligament

There are four main ligaments in the knee joint: anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), and the lateral collateral ligament (LCL). The AAOS states that runners are more likely to injure the ACL than the other ligaments. ACL injury usually occurs with slowing down, abruptly changing direction or landing after a jump.

Minor ligament tears can heal on their own with adequate rest, but ligament tears can be serious. Runners who notice a pop, severe pain or swelling, or decreased range of motion should see their healthcare provider immediately.

What to do with a Knee Injury

With minor pain, runners may try self-treatment including RICE and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication. If there is significant pain, swelling or limited movement, a runner should be evaluated by their healthcare provider as soon as possible.