How to Bounce Back from Runner's Knee

Functional strength is the key to a healthy knee

Despite its specific-sounding name, runner’s knee isn’t something that solely affects runners. You can get it from squatting, kneeling or gardening, and even too many hours behind a desk can irritate the complex tendons and ligaments of the knee joint.

Runner’s knee is usually a repetitive overuse injury, which means it accrues over time, and symptoms tend not to be acute ‘ouch!’ moments. However, if you feel a slight pop, click or ache, your body may be sending you a signal.

“The biggest risk factors for runner’s knee would be your knees transferring too far in front of your toes, or buckling in,” said Tony Rocklin, director of physical therapy at Therapeutic Associates in Portland, Oregon.

Considering the difficulty of keeping your knees and hips aligned throughout the day, not to mention the myriad sports that put stress on the knees, it’s no wonder runner's knee is such a common injury.

So, what options are there in the way of home remedies and prevention?

“Three functional strengthening exercises that can be very beneficial are partial wall sits, a single leg squat with gluteal emphasis, and a single bent-knee deadlift,” Rocklin said.

While some individuals suggest the quadriceps are the most important muscle group for prevention of runner’s knee, Rocklin encourages his patients to focus more on the gluteal muscles and hips, and as an eventual training target, weight-bearing functional exercises.

“You want all your leg muscles to work smarter and stronger, but you definitely want your ‘glutes’ to be fine-tuned and smart. You also want flexibility,” Rocklin said. “If we were to summarize five things: A proper dynamic warm-up, proper flexibility, proper functional strengthening, using the foam roller and/or lacrosse ball [to encourage tissue health], and core strengthening.”

If you're showing early signs of injury, try a regimen of rest, cold compression, anti-inflammatories, and stretching. If symptoms don’t improve within two to three weeks, it’s time to phone your doctor and/or physical therapist.

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