Running can sometimes be a real pain in the knee. Tony Nguyen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and trauma with The CORE Institute, says the most common knee injuries incurred by weekend warriors running at every pace include:
- Runner’s Knee (pain in the front of the knee)
- IT (iliotibial) Band Syndrome (pain on the outside of the knee)
- Patellar Tendonitis (injury to the tendon connecting the kneecap and shinbone)
- Knee Contusions (bruising, swelling or tenderness on or below the kneecap)
- Meniscus Tears (injury to the cartilage of the knee)
- ACL Tears (over-stretching or tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament, which prevents the shinbone from sliding in front of the thigh bone)
- Knee Sprains (injury to the ligaments of the knee)
While some of these injuries necessitate surgical intervention, Nguyen says others only require a little RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation.
“Runner’s knee, IT band syndrome, patellar tendonitis and knee contusions usually heal without surgery.”
In contrast, he says meniscus tears, ACL tears and knee sprains can be more serious and often require surgery.
He explains the various knee injuries that are common among runners and the typical treatments for each below:
Runner’s Knee is characterized by anterior knee pain underneath the patella (kneecap) that is made worse by running, stair climbing and vigorous hiking. Treatment usually entails physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications.
IT band syndrome is pain on the outside of the knee. Most commonly seen in runners and cyclists, IT band syndrome is generally treated with therapeutic stretching and anti-inflammatory medications.
Patellar tendinitis, also known as jumper’s knee, usually affects very active athletes, including runners, volleyball players and basketball players. Pain usually presents as either a burning sensation or a dull ache at the bottom of the kneecap. Treatment focuses on activity modification, anti-inflammatories, stretching and bracing the knee. Physical therapy can be helpful if other treatments fail.
Knee contusions, which result from direct trauma to the knee, present as bruising, swelling and general knee pain. Symptoms usually resolve within 2-4 weeks with the help of rest, ice, compression, elevation and anti-inflammatory medications.
ACL tears usually result from pivoting, which can occur in running as well as sports like football, soccer, volleyball and basketball. Acute swelling, pain and an inability to bear weight on the injured knee are recognizable symptoms of ACL tears. Treatment centers on regaining motion and stability in the knee. Those hoping to return to a high level of activity may benefit from knee surgery.
Meniscus tears manifest as knee pain on either the inside or outside of the knee. Popping, locking and catching of the knee with an inability to fully straighten or bend the knee is common. Severe symptoms may require surgery.
Knee sprains entail spraining or tearing one or more of the ligaments in the knee that results in swelling, pain and an inability to bear weight. Simple knee sprains usually heal on their own within 2-4 weeks. More severe sprains may require surgery.