What Is Runner’s Knee?
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Running offers a host of health benefits. Studies have shown it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. It also boosts your immune system while easing stress and anxiety. But as with any exercise, it’s important to take precautions to avoid injury.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, known as “runner’s knee,” involves pain around or just underneath the kneecap. The pain is “due to challenges that running puts on the kneecap,” says Vijay Vad, MD, assistant attending physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “It involves softening of cartilage under the joint in the kneecap in early stages and loss of cartilage, also known as arthritis in later stages.”
Runner’s knee can be the result of overuse or a direct injury to the knee. The pain stems from the improper movement of the kneecap where the thigh bone and shin bone come together while running. People with weak thigh muscles, poor flexibility, and flat feet are more susceptible. It is also more common in women, according to Dr. Vad.
Other symptoms may include swelling, knee pain when the leg is bent, and popping or grinding sensations in the knee.
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The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends the following ways to avoid runner’s knee:
- Stay in shape.Excess weight overstresses your knees.
- Stretch.Before running, do a 5-minute warm-up, followed by stretching exercises. This helps keep the supporting structures around the front of the knee more flexible.
- Increase training gradually.Avoid sudden changes in the intensity of any exercise.
- Get proper gear. Look for running shoes with good shock absorption and quality construction. If you have flat feet, you may need shoe inserts.
- Use proper form.When running, lean forward and keep your knees bent. Try to run on clear, smooth, resilient, even, and reasonably soft surfaces. Never run straight down a steep hill. Walk down it, or run in a zigzag pattern.
If you’ve been diagnosed with runner’s knee, AAOS recommends the RICE formula:Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Taping the kneecap, wearing a knee brace, or using shoe inserts called orthotics can help. Surgical options are available, but most cases are successfully treated without invasive procedures.
Runner’s knee is no reason to avoid running or to quit if you’re an avid runner. Just listen to your body and, if symptoms surface, take a break to get proper care.
Do you have a health-related question for Dr. Gupta? You can submit it here. For more health news and advice, visit Health Matters With Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
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