“Runner’s knee” is a catch-all term for anterior knee pain, which is common in runners, particularly those who are increasing their mileage. It’s felt while running, but also while walking on stairs (especially down them) and sometimes during prolonged sitting. My first question is always, “When did you last buy new running shoes?” followed by, “What, if anything, did you change about your training regimen?” The first treatment is to ice the knee, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory, and cut back on running, especially on hills. Anything involving a squatting motion should also be avoided. Running in overly worn shoes can exacerbate the problem; keeping shoes up to date is a must.
The pain can be caused by overload of the patella (kneecap), patellar tendinitis, or chondromalacia—a wearing-away of the cartilage beneath the patella.
A counter-measure is to strengthen the quadriceps muscles, which keep the patella tracking smoothly during the weight-bearing part of the stride. A good exercise for this is “straight-leg raises”: Lie on your back with the affected leg straightened and the other leg bent at the knee, with the knee pointing up and the foot on the ground, to support your lower back. Tighten the muscles on the front of the straight leg’s thigh and lift that leg until its knee reaches the level of your other knee. Slowly lower. Repeat with your other leg; even if you have pain only in one knee, it’s a good idea to build equal strength in both legs.
If the symptoms persist, a visit to a sports medicine professional might be necessary.
Dr. Sabrina Strickland is an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery’s Women’s Sports Medicine Center and at the Greenwich, CT, office of HSS. Her research has focused on anterior cruciate ligament injuries in women, as well as on rotator cuff repair and shoulder instability.