Runner's Knee: Causes, Symptoms, and Exercises

Impact Physical Therapy PLLC
February 20, 2024
Minute Read

Tired of wincing with every step? You are probably experiencing one of the most common issues faced by runners and active individuals alike: Runner's Knee, also known as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS). Understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and implementing targeted exercises can significantly prevent and rehabilitate this condition.

What is Runner's Knee?

Runner's Knee refers to a knee pain around the patella or kneecap, commonly occurring among runners, cyclists, and people involved in activities requiring frequent knee bending. Runner's knee stems from the improper alignment of the kneecap on the thigh bone, leading to increased stress and pain in the knee area.

What causes Runner's Knee

The root causes of Runner's Knee are multifaceted, involving biomechanical issues, muscle imbalances, and overuse. Key factors include:

  • Misalignment of the Kneecap: Improper tracking of the kneecap over the thigh bone can increase stress on the knee joint.
  • Weak Hip and Quadriceps Muscles: These can lead to inadequate support for the knee joint, contributing to misalignment and pain.
  • Overuse: Repeated stress on the knee joint from long-distance running or sports can exacerbate the condition.
  • Direct Trauma: A direct hit to the kneecap can lead to runner’s knee.

Runner's knee symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms early can help in addressing the issue before it worsens. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain around or behind the kneecap, especially where it meets the lower part of the thigh bone.
  • Pain when bending the knee — while running, squatting, and even after sitting for long periods.
  • A feeling of grinding or popping in the knee joint.

How to prevent runner's knee

Incorporating specific exercises into your routine can strengthen the muscles around the knee and improve alignment, significantly reducing the risk of developing Runner's Knee. Here are some effective exercises and preventative measures:

  • Quadriceps Strengthening: Straight leg raises and wall sits can help strengthen the quadriceps without putting extra stress on the knee.
  • Hip Strengthening: Exercises like side leg raises, hip thrusts, and clamshells can improve hip stability and function, reducing the burden on the knees.
  • Flexibility Work: Regular stretching of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles can maintain proper muscle balance and joint alignment.
  • Proper Footwear: Wearing shoes that offer good support and fit can correct poor running form and reduce stress on the knees.
  • Gradual Increase in Activity: Avoid sudden increases in training intensity or duration to minimize the risk of overuse injuries. 

Manual Therapy Techniques for Runner's Knee

Manual therapy involves specific, hands-on techniques aimed at reducing pain, increasing range of motion, and improving function. Here are some of the manual therapy techniques we utilize for patients with Runner's Knee:

  • Soft Tissue Mobilization: Our therapists use hands-on techniques to gently massage and mobilize the muscles and soft tissues surrounding the knee. This can help reduce muscle tightness, improve blood flow, and decrease pain.
  • Patellar Mobilization: Misalignment or tightness in the patella can contribute to Runner's Knee. Through gentle movements, we can mobilize the patella, enhancing its tracking and reducing stress on the knee.
  • Trigger Point Release: Trigger points in the quadriceps, hamstrings, or calf muscles can contribute to knee pain. By applying direct pressure to these areas, we help release muscle tension and alleviate pain.
  • Joint Mobilization: We apply gentle force to knee joint structures to improve motion, reduce stiffness, and decrease discomfort. This technique encourages better joint function and alignment.

Targeted Therapeutic Exercises for Runner's Knee

In addition to manual therapy, specific exercises tailored to your condition can reinforce strength, improve alignment, and decrease the risk of future injuries. Here are some exercises we often recommend:

  • Straight Leg Raises: Lie on your back, bend one knee, and keep the other leg straight. Lift the straight leg to the height of the bent knee, then lower. This strengthens the quadriceps without putting pressure on the knee.
  • Bridge Exercises: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips towards the ceiling, hold for a few seconds, and lower. This exercise strengthens the glutes and hamstrings, supporting the knee.
  • Side Leg Raises: Lie on your side with legs straight. Raise the top leg towards the ceiling, then lower it slowly. This exercise targets the hip abductors, crucial for stabilizing your gait and reducing knee stress.
  • Half Squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Perform a shallow squat, not letting your knees go past your toes. This strengthens your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, improving knee stability.
  • Calf Raises: Stand near a wall for balance. Lift your heels off the ground, then slowly lower them. This exercise strengthens the calf muscles, which support your lower leg and knee.

Incorporating Manual Therapy and Exercises into Your Routine

Our team works closely with each patient to design a personalized treatment plan that integrates the most effective manual therapy techniques and exercises for their specific needs. By addressing the root causes of Runner's Knee and focusing on holistic recovery, we aim to not only alleviate pain but also prevent its recurrence.

Remember, consistency is key to recovery. Regularly performing prescribed exercises and attending therapy sessions can lead to significant improvements. If you're experiencing knee pain or suspect you have Runner's Knee, don't wait for it to worsen. Early intervention is crucial for a successful recovery.

Reach Out for Expert Care

We're committed to helping you overcome knee pain so you can return to your favorite activities without discomfort. If you're struggling with Runner's Knee or any other musculoskeletal issue, contact us to schedule a consultation. Let's work together towards a pain-free, active lifestyle.