Treating Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee) in Young Athletes

Treating Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee) in Young Athletes
Treating Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee) in Young Athletes

Patellofemoral pain syndrome a.k.a. “Runner’s Knee” is one of the most common types of knee injuries sustained by young athletes participating in running sports. The condition is characterized by pain in the kneecap region that is aggravated with running or knee bending. Let’s look at some possible causes for Runner’s Knee and how it can be treated.

The knee pain that characterizes Runner’s Knee is due to mis-tracking of the kneecap along its groove in the thigh bone. There could be several possible causes:

  • Overuse: Too much pounding of your feet on hard surfaces while running can cause wearing away of the knee cartilage.
  • Muscle weakness: Weakness of the surrounding muscles (quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings) can cause the kneecap to slip out of its groove.
  • Biomechanical: The patella may be very large on its outside surface as compared to the inside or it may sit high in its groove on the thigh bone and dislocate very easily. Also, flat feet or high-arched feet can turn the knee inside or outside pulling the kneecap sideways causing the problem.

Young athletes are more susceptible to Runner’s Knee probably because they more likely to “go all out” when participating in sports (even playing through pain on some occasions), their bones may still be growing, and their muscles may not be developed sufficiently to support the knee joint in withstanding the stresses involved with running.

Being a female athlete puts you at a higher risk for Runner’s Knee because women tend have wider hips which increases the angulation between the thighbone and shinbone causing increased stress on the joint when running.

If identified early, the following tips will help in treating patellofemoral pain syndrome in young athletes:

  • Rest: To treat Runner’s Knee, the first thing to do would be to stop running for a few days to give the microtears in the tissue an opportunity to heal. Return to running only once the pain has fully subsided.
  • Use the right shoes: Running shoes generally have heel-to-toe drops of varying degrees. Shoes that have a low heel height are considered a safe option if you tend to have knee pain when running.
  • Follow the right running technique: When running, avoid heel strikes. Rather try to land on your midfoot with your knees bent and soft. Also, always keep your feet pointed in the direction you are running to minimizing rotational stress on the knee.
  • Strengthen your leg muscles: Supplement your running with a twice a week weight training program of exercises such as leg extensions, squats, hamstring curls, and calf raises to help stabilize and support your knees.
  • Increase your running distances gradually: Try to increase your mileage by no more than 10% per week. Any more than that can put you at risk for Runner’s Knee.

If your knee pain does not get better with these tips, consult an orthopedic specialist for an evaluation. The sooner you get your condition diagnosed and treated, the faster you can return to your athletic lifestyle.

Dr. Ronak Patel is a Board-Certified Orthopedic Surgeon offering a full range of care for all problems of the knee and shoulder with a special interest in complex knee disorders. Book your appointment with Dr. Patel today: (630) 929-2249.