Runner’s Knee: How to deal with it and recover quickly

Posted on April 5, 2011

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If you are experiencing a pain beneath your knee cap after a run then there is a high probability you have runner’s knee.  I will give you a few seconds to come to terms with that.  I know, I know, it’s hard to imagine.  Unfortunately, I am about to say something that will surely make you cry; stop running!  Please, don’t shoot the messenger.  There’s a silver lining in all of this, I promise.  But, first and foremost you need to stop the source of your problem immediately in order to prevent further damage.

As a fellow runner I am completely aware of your pain.  In training for a ½ marathon I too encountered the horrid beast that is runner’s knee.  The pain began as a bruise-like feeling beneath my left kneecap that was tender only to the touch.  I assumed it was nothing and refused to look up information on it so as not to derail my training.  With less than a month to go before my second ½ marathon I knew I had no time to stop.  But, the harsh reality set in once the pain became more formidable.  After researching my symptoms I knew runner’s knee was very much the culprit.

If you are experiencing runner’s knee it is likely a result of over-training; the classic case of too much too soon.  In my case I went from running six miles one week for my long run to running ten miles the next.  In addition, my runs were filled with concrete laden hills, which is never a great thing.  Also, I was not stretching at all before my runs and doing minimal stretching following my runs.  Finally, I was not really icing.  I thought since I had already run a ½ marathon and knew I was capable of running long distances that my body would simply hold up. 

So what’s the silver lining in all of this?  Well, I ended up running my ½ marathon with ease and minimal discomfort.  However, it wasn’t without taking precautionary measures and changing up my training.  Thus, there’s hope for you.  I have listed a few things that helped me get over my runner’s knee quickly and sent me on the road to recovery.

Runner’s Knee Recovery Tips

Stop running and rest. After the first symptoms of runner’s knee (which is probably why you are reading this now) stop running for a few days. 

Spend as little time on your knee as possible.  Avoid stairs or hills, because you will likely feel pain when descending them.  If you don’t avoid them or take precautionary measures then you will eventually know what I am talking about. 

Ice your knee for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.  Make sure you elevate.  I iced for the first few days following my symptoms.

You can still do weights in order to train or you can also swim, but I wouldn’t do anything that puts pressure on the knee.  If you are doing weights (which I did) try not to do any free weights that will cause you to use your knees to stabilize yourself.  Machines would be the best in this case.  DO NOT DO ANY MACHINES FOR YOUR LEGS!  No Leg press or anything that attempts to strengthen your legs because at this point your knee is still very fragile.  And, of course, no lunges!

You will feel pain for probably 5-6 days after your first symptoms.  Don’t freak out! I felt pain for about a week after my first symptoms.  What this means is do not try to run or even do the elliptical, as it will put major pressure on your knees.  Trust me the pain will subside almost overnight.  Basically, be patient! 

Research stretches that will help strengthen your legs to prevent this from happening again.  Stretch when possible, but make sure that pain is not readily apparent.

Sit in a hot bath with Epson salt.  I honestly feel like this helped my knee recover quickly.  Oh, and by quickly I mean in less than two weeks.  Give it time to heal.  If you try and run too quickly you will likely suffer from chronic knee pain.

The pain should subside after a week and not be noticeable when you are walking.  However, you may still feel pain to the touch.  Don’t obsess like I did about this.  Get out of the habit of constantly pressing your kneecap.  It will just make it worse.  If you can walk without feeling pain and maybe even jog for like 20 steps then you are almost ready to start getting back into running exercises.  Also, the pain should be a lot more minimal to the touch (don’t touch obsessively.)  There has to be a very noticeable difference.

When the pain has diminished do stationary bikes to work your way back up.  I would say to do it for about 20-30 minutes to ensure minimal strain.  Also, put the seat high enough to allow minimal bending of the knee.  Make sure you stretch before and after every single time.  Ice immediately afterward as well for 15-20 minutes and elevate, elevate, elevate.

If after a couple of days of biking you feel no significant change in pain then you may be ready to run again.  You will know if you are ready.  If you are going to run for the first time do not run on concrete or a place with hills.  Go to a nice track or get on a treadmill.  Run for only 10 minutes.  When I say run I really mean jog slowly.  If your normal pace is like 8 minutes then run at a 10 minute mile.  Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT RUN MORE THAN 10 MINUTES!  Remember, this is not a race.  You are recovering still. 

I suggest buying a runner’s knee brace.  You can find one at any sports store, even at Walmart or Target.  Here is a picture of what it should look like.  Always run with it, especially in the beginning.  I ran my ½ marathon with it.  It works.  It seems like a cheap device but it works.  Remember to STRETCH AND ICE!

 

If there is still no pain then a couple of days later take it up to three miles if possible.  Again, do not run for speed.  Take your time.  You may feel a little bit of pain at the start but it should subside.  If the pain does not subside then stop running immediately.  You do not want to diminish your progress.

If you can run three miles and the pain does not get any worse you should be good to return to your training.  However, I caution you to not run too much.  I scaled back on my runs since I only had about two weeks to go before my ½ marathon once I felt about 85%.  I never ran more than 8 miles after my injury, but I had already run 10 miles the day my runner’s knee started so I felt comfortable that I could still run 13.1 miles. 

I am sprinting to the finish!

I hope this helps ease your mind in dealing with your injury.  As in most injuries rest is the most important thing.  Be smart about your training and know when to say stop.  Many injuries can be kept at a minimum if you are simply proactive in dealing with and preventing them.  Remember to always stretch and ice.  Good luck in your training.  Don’t worry you will be running again very soon.

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