Your knees take a beating. As one of the largest joints in your body, they’re the trusty hinges that swing your legs and feet forward and back as you move. They also bare the bulk of your weight and are vulnerable to injury and overuse. So what happens when you begin to feel pain, especially while running? Here, Christopher Goh, Medical Director of Inliven Medical here in Singapore, explains a few of the most likely causes of running-induced knee pain, and what to do about it.
IT Band Friction Syndrome (ITBFS)
Of all the causes of knee pain while running, IT Band Friction Syndrome (ITBFS) is one of the most common—and frustrating. It occurs when the tendon that runs down the outside of your leg from the hip to the shin gets tight and inflamed. Pain can extend to the hip and calf too. It generally only occurs when running, but as the syndrome progresses, you may feel it walking.
What to do: Unfortunately, the only pain relief associated with ITBFS is to rest the tendon. In other words, reduce your running. Dr. Goh suggests massage therapy to release the band. For ITBFS and ligament injuries in general, steroid injections may also help for a time.
Another type of knee pain occurs when too much strain is placed on the tendon that connects the kneecap to the shinbone. You’re probably logging more distance and have started to experience a warm or burning sensation below the kneecap.
What to do: Tendonitis issues can typically be resolved with rest, ice, compression, and easing back into your usual routine. Dr. Goh says taping the knee during exercise will help support the tendon.
Among the most common causes of knee pain while running, runner’s knee, or Chondromalacia patellae (CMP) occurs when the cartilage in the kneecap softens, causing mild to moderate pain under, just above, or below the kneecap. It generally worsens when running uphill, downhill or up and down stairs.
What to do: In younger adults, cartilage often heals within a few months. Dr. Goh recommends strengthening and stretching, in particular, hamstring stretches and leg lifts can help release tension and build support around the kneecap. Some joint research also supports collagen supplements to rebuild cartilage.
Your meniscus is a protective cushion of cartilage that sits on both the inside and outside of your knee and helps balance the weight you place on your joints and provide stability. It’s easy to injure, and the odd twist or fall can result in a tear. You’ll experience some degree of inflammation and pain when you bend.
What to do: If you suspect a tear, go see your doctor, who will likely run an MRI. Bad news: Dr. Goh says tears often don’t heal. Your doctor may suggest an Unloader Brace for added stability or surgery for more severe cases.
ACL and/or MCL Tears
Your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is the ligament that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone on the outside of your knee while your MCL (medial collateral ligament) does the same on the inside of your knee. Tears can happen for a variety of reasons, a bad twist or trip, over extension or an abrupt stop. Indicators include a loud pop, sudden and extreme pain, and difficulty putting any weight on your knee.
What to do: Don’t hesitate—go see your doctor right away. According to Dr. Goh, you will need to either strengthen the muscles outside the knee or replace the ligament with surgery. In both events, your future may include a stability brace to prevent lateral extension.
A knee sprain is when you stretch your knee ligaments beyond their comfortable extension, causing pain and swelling but not dislocation. It can happen with a misstep, or a few kilometers too many. The pain can be mild, maybe you feel just a little creaky or stiff, or more intense.
What to do: Visit the doctor, and make sure to rest, ice and put your knees up whenever possible. Dr. Goh often recommends a soft knee support until you’re 100 percent healed.