The past couple of weeks I have joined the vast group of runners and other athletes who have at some point experienced Patellofemoral Syndrome, commonly referred to as “Runner’s Knee”. I was quite happy to be excluded from this group up till now. However, I can now discuss this topic from first hand experience and actually share several strategies that have been very successful for me in relieving pain.
Patellofemoral Syndrome is characterized by pain under the knee cap (patella) where it joins with the femur. The cause of pain and dysfunction often results from1) Tight Muscles – Abnormal forces: ie. tight muscles pulling on the knee (quadriceps and IT band) or 2) Imbalanced muscles 3) prolonged repetitive compressive or shearing forces, such as in running or jumping 3) fractures; 4)osteoarthritis.
If you have pain, the best first step is to see a sports medicine doctor and/or massage therapist, to diagnose the cause of your particular pain; each person’s body is unique.
It is helpful to have strategies at your immediate disposal; appointments may be days away, and your doctor will likely recommend at least some of these strategies. I will list what worked best for me first- (remembering as you read that the cause of my pain may be different from yours). The good news is interventions really did work!
1. Reduce Inflammation with icing and anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen).
2. Massage: I saw a massage therapist familiar with runners. He worked deep into the quadricep muscles and IT band, which were extremely tight (along with working the other leg muscles and gluteal muscles). I had relief the next day from the worst pain.
3. Patella Band/Knee Strap: A thin strap that goes under the knee cap. It works by pressing on the patellar tendon, keeping the knee correctly aligned. I am wearing it during exercise for support and have experienced a huge reduction in pain. Many runners feel relief using this tiny piece of equipment. Read Wall Street Journal article on the Patella Band. Find an affordable brand at your local Walmart.
4. Foam Roller: This little tool is amazing – it loosens the muscles, like massage and has been incredible in working out my muscles and relieving the pressure on my knee. It can be used every day. So glad to have this tool, as my massage therapist is currently on vacation (and it is much cheaper than a massage!) I had tried improvising with my child’s soccer ball, but I would definitely recommend purchasing the real product, as it is much more effective and comfortable. I am using The Grid roller.
5. Rest: I reduced my running mileage in half and did a bit more cross-training with the non-impact activities of swimming and cycling.
6. Strengthening Exercises – Quadriceps strengthening is commonly suggested because the quadriceps muscles help to stabilize the patella. Quadriceps weakness and quadriceps muscle imbalance may cause abnormal patellar tracking. For runners, cross-training with cycling will help build the quadricep muscle. Also do specific exercises to build the quadricep muscles.
The goal is to conquer this painful “runner’s knee” for good and once again embrace healthy runner’s legs and enjoy pain free running.