What Is Runner’s Knee? Do I Need Surgery For My Knee Pain?

A Pain In The Knee

Professional runners and amateurs alike get knee pain at some point. The pain can start around the kneecap or the side of the knee. This common occurrence is called runner’s knee. The name comes from running, however, runners aren’t the only unlucky souls. Many high-impact activities like jumping, cycling, and football can cause runner’s knee. Surprisingly, people who sit for hours on end get runner’s knee too. Persons with knee pain should understand the source and treatment options, including surgery.

Failure to fit in

There are 2 circumstances that cause runner’s knee. The first and most common type of runner’s knee is patellofemoral pain syndrome. The thigh bone and shin bone come together at the knee. At this point, the kneecap floats in place, held by the quadriceps tendon and patella tendon. When the leg extends, the kneecap retracts into the smooth femoral groove on the thigh bone. If the kneecap does not sit properly, persons can experience intense pain.

That’s one bad band

Another form of runner’s knee is iliotibial band syndrome affecting 14% of runners. This usually brings pain at the side of the knee. A long tendon called the IT band runs from the glutes down to the knee. At the knee, the IT band acts like a spring, supporting the knee with the surrounding thigh muscles. If the surrounding muscles and tendons become compromised, sharp pain at the side of the knee happens.

Causes of runner’s knee

Because the knee is critical for movement, there are several ways to develop the condition. The most common cause is weak thigh muscles and tight tendons around the knee. This is why many sedentary and overweight people develop runner’s knee. On the flip side, overtraining is the main culprit for athletes. Other causes include a dislocated or damaged kneecap, arthritis, poor running technique, and poor posture.

Beware these painful signs

Persons with runner’s knee often get a dull pain around the kneecap. Pain develops at the back of the kneecap, especially when seated. Runner’s knee can also cause swelling around the knee. In some cases, persons feel a popping or grinding sound when the knee bends. These symptoms show up when at rest, standing for long periods, going downhill or down a flight of stairs.

Get back running again with these tips

Runner’s knee comes on gradually. If symptoms arise, increase recovery by using ice packs, elevating the knee, and reducing physical activity. Painkillers help reduce swelling and inflammation. Strengthening the surrounding muscles is the best longterm strategy to curing runner’s knee. Poor core, glutes, and thigh muscles are the underlying cause of the condition. Speak with a physical therapist or certified trainer. These specialists prescribe stretching and exercise to help support the knees.

Do I need surgery?

If all conventional treatment, including exercise, fails, then a doctor needs to do a closer assessment. At this point, there could be a deeper issue. For instance, the quadriceps or patella cartilage could be worn out or damaged. If the issue is solely tied to the patella ligaments, then doctors can perform a lateral release. This surgery is a minimally invasive procedure to cut away some of the surrounding ligaments to decrease tension. If the kneecap is clearly misaligned, then lateral release surgery may help with realigning the patella.

One in a million

Surgery for the condition is quite rare, with a lower than expected success rate. So doctors go through intense selection criteria with a select few eligible each year. More importantly, doctors will exhaust all non-surgical treatment before resorting to surgery. In almost all cases, proper rest, exercise and recovery reduces runner’s knee.

Ready to pound the pavement again?

Seasoned athletes, casual joggers, and sedentary persons alike should be aware of runner’s knee. Chances are surgery may not be needed. But if left untreated, doctors may have no choice but to operate. The knees are a critical part of movement and support. Taking the right steps can stop runner’s knee and make movement pain-free again.


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