What Is Runner’s Knee?

Written By on May 5, 2021 — Medically Reviewed By Kristopher Ceniza

Written by on May 5, 2021 — Medically Reviewed By: Kristopher Cenzia

Runner’s knee is a condition that affects many sportspeople and can range from mild to serious cases. There are several things that you should watch out for if you suspect you are developing this condition.

We will be taking a closer look at runner’s knee in this article and how it can be managed;

  • The symptoms of runner’s knee
  • Causes
  • Treatment
  • Will it go away?
  • How can you tell if you have pain from runner’s knee?
  • How to fix runner’s knee
  • Length of the healing process

What are the symptoms of a runner’s knee?

an illustration that has three symptoms of a runners knee objects Pain in the front of the knee, Knee crepitus and Pain that worsens when moving

There are many possible reasons for developing runner’s knee, and this is why there is a variety of symptoms that can be a result of the condition.

Some symptoms are very common among sufferers. Others can be a result of runner’s knee alongside an underlying knee condition.

The primary symptoms of runner’s knee can include:

  • Pain in the front of the knee; When the femoral groove and the patella are misaligned it can cause pain in the front of the knee or the sides of the kneecap. You may feel that even when you are at rest the ache will remain or get worse. You may also experience sharp pain when using the injured knee.
  • Knee crepitus; This is when certain movements can cause a grinding or crunching sensation within the knee joint. This often occurs in the injured joint after periods of extended rest, such as getting out of bed first thing in the morning. Knee crepitus will lessen and go away completely during use.
  • Pain that worsens when moving; When the runner’s knee is present you will often experience pain, excess friction, or popping noises when the joint is moving upwards or downwards. This can be during movements such as squatting abruptly from a standing position or walking up hills and stairs. It will usually cause pain that will lessen when the movement ceases.

Causes of runner’s knee

A runner wearing yellow dry-fit shirt and black shorts with green shoes while running

Runner’s knee is an overuse injury that is caused primarily by repetitive and excessive strain on the knee joint.

Unlike many other sporting injuries there is no actual tissue damage associated with runner’s knee pain. There is no broken bones, no torn tendons, and no cartilage damage either. The pain comes from inflamed tissues that surround the kneecap, generally fat, bursa and synovial membrane.

The tissues work to lubricate the knee joint and provide some additional cushioning between the bones. When there is a high level of stress on the knee the tissues can become irritated and inflamed.

The inflammation can be seen as a warning sign of the potential for more serious tissue damage if this stress continues.

Every tissue in the body has a certain level of stress that it can take before damage occurs. The tolerance develops over many years and is determined by your lifestyle, or what you body does on a regular basis.

Knee Force Knee Sleeve

For example, professional athletes have a much higher tolerance for the repetitive physical stress as opposed to sedentary office workers because of the condition of their body and intense amounts of exercise.

Overuse injuries, such as runner’s knee, occur when repetitively high levels of stress are placed upon the joint that go beyond what the tissues have adapted to handle.

For the majority of sufferers runner’s knee is a sign to slow down and do better training to prepare yourself for higher stress activities.

Runner’s knee put bluntly is an overuse injury that signifies you are doing too much too soon. A sign that you need to slow down as your body was not prepared for that level of stress.

Treatment for runner’s knee

an illustration that has three treatment for runners knee, Rest your knee, Ice your knee and Stretching and strengthening exercises

For many people runner’s knee will get better on its own with time and simple treatments that address the problem causing pain to the joint.

Some effective ways to help runner’s knee heal faster and speed up your recovery include:

  • Rest your knee; Try your best to rest the knee as much as possible and avoid things that make the pain worse. This could be squatting, lunging, sitting or standing for long periods of time.
  • Ice your knee; To ease the pain and swelling you should ice the knee for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for a few days, or until the pain is gone.
  • Wrap your knee; Using an elastic bandage, patellar straps, or compression sleeves will give your joint extra support for running.
  • Elevate your leg; This can be done on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • OTC medications; Ibuprofen or naproxen can help with pain or swelling, but they do have side effects such as a higher risk or bleeding or ulcers. These should be used as directed, unless you have different instructions from your doctor.
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises; These are especially important for the quadriceps muscles. You may ask a physiotherapist about some specific exercises that may promote healing of runner’s knee.
  • Arch supports or orthotics for your shoes; These can help with the position of your feet. They can be bought from your local drugstore or you can also have them custom-made.

Trying the above techniques should ease the pain, but if it continues then you should ask your doctor if you require a specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon.

It is rare that anyone with runner’s knee will need surgery, this is only for severe cases of runner’s knee.

An orthopedic surgeon can remove and replace damaged cartilage and, in the case of extreme runner’s knee, can correct the position of the kneecap to distribute stress in the joint more evenly.

Learn more: What to use for knee pain after running – ice or heat?

Frequently asked questions

Does runner’s knee go away?

A knee in pain, runners knee in most people takes time to heal

Generally, runner’s knee in most people can take four to six weeks to fully heal. However, every case of runner’s knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome can be different.

Some people may recover more quickly, while others take longer to heal. This can be due to the extent of the injury or the physical fitness of the person.

What does runner’s knee pain feel like?

A man sitting on the ground wearing red shirt and blue shorts suffering from runner's knee

Runner’s knee manifests as a dull pain at the front of the knee. It can be caused by a structural defect or the way that you walk or run.

Symptoms, other than pain, include rubbing, grinding, or clicking sounds in the kneecap. The best treatment is to avoid running or physical activity until the injury is healed.

How do you fix runner’s knee?

Man doing regular exercise to prevent runner's knee

To avoid runner’s knee in future once it is healed there are some measures you can take.

Make sure to keep your thigh muscles strong with regular exercise. Stay in good shape and keep at a healthy weight and make sure to warm up efficiently before you work out.

If you have issues that may lead to runner’s knee then shoe inserts can be helpful. Your shoes should have enough support and you should avoid running on hard surfaces such as concrete.

How long does runner’s knee take to heal?

A medical practitioner checking the knee of a patient.

This is again specific to the person and their individual injury. The extent of the injury plays a major part in the length of recovery. So, the length of time is down to a few aspects of the injury and the person.

Your physiotherapist will have the most accurate answer, based on personal circumstances. There are many ways i which you can promote healing in such an injury and effectively reduce healing time.

Some people will need to rest completely from running or other sporting activities for a period of time, others may just need to reduce the amount of running or sport from the usual.

Knee Force Knee Sleeve

This reduces the loading on the knee sufficiently in order to allow symptoms to settle.

It is dependent on how severe the injury is and how irritable the patellofemoral pain syndrome symptoms are.

In the worst case scenario, when symptoms are both severe and irritable, then it can take four to six weeks rest from running in order to reduce pain and other symptoms.

Rest from damaging activities can help to allow other treatments, such as exercise-based rehab, to have an effect before you should consider running again.

Mitch Torres (PT)
Mitch is a physical therapist, personal trainer, and nutrition coach. Fascinated with the knee joint, Mitch poured that passion into writing about knee pain and how to overcome it with movement. His goal is to teach you how to apply this knowledge into your daily life, so you can keep knee pain away for good.