“Runner’s knee” is a term referring to several of medical conditions that can cause pain around the front of the knee and are a result of running. Included in these conditions are anterior knee pain syndrome, patellofemoral malalignment, and chondromalacia patella. These conditions all involve the patella (pictured below). Anterior knee pain usually occurs in adolescents, and comes on as a result of a rapid increase in activity. Patellofemoral malalignment is a condition where the patella, which normally slides up and down in a vertical fashion with knee flexion and extension, comes out of alignment. Instead of direct vertical sliding in its groove, it “tracks” out of its groove to the side. Chondromalacia patella is a degenerative disorder of the articular (lining) cartilage lining the undersurface of the patella, where the cartilage wears and thins, causing pain. In other words, it is osteoarthritis localized to the underside of the patella.
There are various causes of “runner’s knee,” including kneecap malalignment, injury, excessive training, inflexibility, tightness, and flat feet.
To diagnose the problem, your doctor may obtain one or more imaging tests, including an X-ray, CT, or MRI. Your doctor may also order blood tests to rule out other causes of your knee pain.
The treatment for most cases of “runner’s knee” is rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), and to stop the activity causing the problem. Surgical treatments are available for cases of malalignment and cartilage injury, including realignment and arthroscopy, respectively.
You can take several steps to avoid “runner’s knee.” These include running zig-zag down and up a hill instead of straight up or down, using appropriate running equipment, staying in shape, and stretching frequently.