Woman with pain in knee from running

Ever heard of patellofemoral pain syndrome?

Probably not. The more common term is “runner’s knee,” and if you have it, you surely know it’s painful. 

Runner’s knee is a broad term for a variety of knee injuries — and it’s not just for runners. Symptoms include chronic pain in front of your kneecap; sensations of pain behind the kneecap, pain when you bend your knee to walk, run, squat or sit; and pain that worsens when you walk down stairs or downhill. 

These are the most likely causes of runner’s knee: 

  • Repetition. Repeated bending with a high load or impact on the knees during exercise, sports or physical labor. 
  • Rate of program. Going from couch potato to marathon runner. Doing too much, too fast may result in pain. 
  • An acute injury. An unexpected blow to the knee from an accident or fall. 
  • Foot conditions. Flat arches and other foot-related issues may affect how you walk, putting strain on your knees. 
  • Cartilage breakdown. Loss of natural cushioning that your knees require to move painlessly. 
  • Muscle imbalance. Weak thigh muscles, and compensating with your other leg muscles that help straighten your knee may result in pain under your kneecap. 

The good news is runner’s knee symptoms often go away on their own. In the meantime, there are things you can do to help. 

When done correctly, quadriceps can be strengthened with squats and leg extensions. Be sure you understand the load and stress being placed under the kneecap when doing these exercises. 

Protect your cartilage. Moderate loading activities like walking can help, while higher levels of loading, such as running, may break down cartilage. If you have cartilage loss, switching to mid- or low-impact activities may help. 

Stay limber. Stretching and strengthening exercises can make a big difference, especially when you focus on quadriceps, hamstring and often gluteal muscles. 

When your knee hurts, you can help speed recovery by resting your knee and avoiding activities that make the pain worse, including running, jumping and high impact exercises. 

When the pain is acute, apply ice for 20 minutes at a time to reduce pain and swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or Tylenol may also help. Be sure to take only the recommended dosage. If pain persists, talk with your primary care provider to determine if your knee requires specialized attention. 

If so, you may be referred to Asante Outpatient Therapy or Asante Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, where we offer a variety of physical therapy and treatment options to help relieve your pain and heal the source of your symptoms. 

Ian Hallows, MD is dual board-certified in Family Medicine and Primary Care Sports Medicine with Asante Family Medicine-Grants Pass. He is committed to caring for patients of all ages and has specialized training in treating young athletes. Call (541) 472-7810 for a sports medicine appointment with Dr. Hallows.


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