Runner's knee is a common ailment among runners and other athletes, but it can also strike anyone. The knee joint is large and complex. It’s made up of the lower end of your thigh bone (femur) and the upper end of your shinbone (tibia). The underside of your kneecap (patella) glides along a groove at the end of your femur as you bend and straighten your leg.

Runner's knee refers to pain around the knee – specifically, under the kneecap – where tendons and ligaments join. It’s an umbrella term for several conditions that cause tenderness and pain in this area. Usually, it results from the kneecap being out of alignment. 

When your kneecap isn’t aligned properly, it doesn’t travel in its groove as it should. This leads to irritation of the tissue and tendons in your knee and can result in pain when you straighten your leg after sitting for a long time.

Runner's knee isn't limited to runners — despite the name, anyone can develop it. It’s typically caused by repetitive motions of the knee, a certain way of walking or running or having poor posture or muscle imbalances, such as tight hamstrings. Wearing shoes that offer poor support or don't fit well can also result in knee pain.

Find out what runner's knee feels like, what the treatments are, and how to prevent it.

Symptoms of Runner's Knee

General symptoms of runner's knee(opens in a new tab) include:

  • Swelling around or behind the kneecap
  • Discomfort at the front or around the sides of the knee, particularly when bending or stretching
  • Pain when walking up or downstairs
  • Pain that gets worse after sitting for a long time with your knees bent
  • Pain that gets worse after running, jumping, or squatting

If you have any of the symptoms above, talk to your doctor about identifying and treating the cause of your pain.

Prevention of Runner's Knee

Running is a high-impact form of exercise that can particularly strain your knees. Knee pain is a common problem among runners of all levels, from beginners to professionals. The good news is that most knee pain is preventable. With the right measures, you can minimize the risk of injury and keep running pain-free. 

Consider precautions like the following:

  • Make sure you warm up and cool down properly
  • Adjust your running style
  • Strengthen your legs
  • Don't increase training too rapidly
  • Get the right running shoes

With joint pain, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Use the right preventative methods to minimize pain in your knees and protect the joints in your legs as you get older. 

5 Cures for Runner's Knee

The main objective of treating runner's knee is to reduce pain, decrease inflammation, and improve the alignment of your leg’s bones and joints. 

The good news is that most cases of runner's knee can be cured with a combination of rest and simple stretches(opens in a new tab) and exercises. For many people, the pain will go away on its own after a few days. But if you want to speed up the process, there are five main treatments you can use.

#1: ​​Rest

Take a few days off from running and other activities that increase your knee pain. If walking hurts, try biking or swimming until the pain subsides.

#2: Ice

Ice reduces inflammation and relieves pain. Put crushed ice in a plastic bag wrapped in a towel and apply it to the sore area for 15 to 20 minutes every two hours. If you don't have an ice pack, a bag of frozen vegetables like peas or corn works just as well.

#3: Compression

Knee sleeves help reduce swelling and stabilize your knee joint. Compression stockings are also an effective treatment option for runner's knee and shin splints (another common injury among runners).

#4: Elevation

Keep your injured leg elevated while sitting or lying down as much as possible during the first 48 hours after injury to reduce swelling and keep blood from pooling in the affected area.

#5: NSAIDs

Taking over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and aspirin can help relieve pain and reduce swelling. Make sure to follow dosage guidelines.

When to See a Doctor About Runner's Knee

If you’re not sure whether your knee pain is from runner's knee, see your doctor to rule out other, more serious problems. They will likely assess you for signs of a meniscus tear, ACL tear, or fracture. 

If you have severe knee pain, swelling, redness, fever, or difficulty walking, see your doctor right away.

How Do Orthopedic Specialists Diagnose Runner's Knee?

Orthopedic doctors begin by asking patients to describe their symptoms and how they happened. The doctor will then perform a physical examination of the knee. This may include tests like bending and straightening the knee, checking for pain with certain movements, and feeling for deformities or swelling in the knee.

In some cases, doctors may also order images of your knee joint. X-rays can help rule out other conditions like arthritis or fractures, while MRIs and CT scans can reveal issues like cartilage tears or loose bodies floating in the joint.

The doctors at Orthopedic Specialists of SW Florida combine orthopedics and sports medicine to diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate knee pain. Our compassionate, highly skilled staff goes above and beyond to treat your pain and prevent future injury.

​​If you are experiencing pain consistent with a runner's knee injury, contact us by calling (239) 334-7000 or online by filling out this short contact form. We can help reduce your symptoms and help you get back to the activities that you love doing.