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Runner’s Knee: Not Just for Runners

Athletes with regular kneecap pain may have “runner’s knee,” or chondromalacia. But, don’t let the name fool you. Runners aren’t the only people susceptible to knee pain from chondromalacia.

Runner’s knee or chondromalacia is usually dull and aching and affects the anterior, or front, of the kneecap. This type of knee pain commonly occurs in young athletes, and even more frequently in women.

Chondromalacia is the result of intense stress load on the knees. Runners, cyclists, skiers, soccer players, or people participating in similar activities are more likely to be diagnosed with runner’s knee.

The underside of the knee’s patella is covered with a layer of cartilage that protects the knee joint and allows the joint to easily bend and move. Excessive activity creates wear and tear on the patella’s cartilage, causing it to break down. Without the cartilage protecting the joint, the patella rubs directly against the knee joint causing pain and irritation known as chondromalacia or runner’s knee.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), other contributing factors include:

  • A kneecap that is out of alignment compared to the rest of the knee
  • Injury to the knee, such as a strained tendon
  • Tightness, imbalance, or weakness in the thigh muscles
  • Flat feet

The first approach in runner’s knee treatment includes resting the knee and taking a break from any activity until the activity can be done without pain. POA and AAOS recommend “RICE” as initial therapy in runner’s knee treatment:

  • Rest: Avoid putting weight on the painful knee. To keep active, try a non-weight bearing activity like swimming.
  • Ice: Apply ice packs to the knee. Apply the ice for 15 minutes every three or four hours.
  • Compression: Use an elastic knee sleeve/bandage with a hole for the kneecap that fits snugly without causing additional pain.
  • Elevation: Keep the runner’s knee raised higher than your heart.

Also take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, if needed to manage your pain. After resting your runner’s knee for a period of time, be sure to return to your activity slowly and carefully.

If RICE and taking an activity break do not alleviate the knee pain caused by chondromalacia, call POA to make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist. Physical therapy may be prescribed as runner’s knee treatment to help recondition your knee. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to remove fragments of damaged cartilage or to realign the kneecap.

For more information about chondromalacia, runner’s knee, or to schedule an appointment, call POA at 425-656-5060.

Additional Resources:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Chondromalacia of the Patella – National Institutes of Health

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