As winter slowly begins to thaw, many people take advantage of warmer temperatures and begin or return to an outdoor exercise routine. However, this enthusiasm for working out can have an unfortunate consequence: runner’s knee. Technically known as patellofemoral pain, this problem doesn’t just affect joggers.

In fact, it can develop in anyone who places stress on their knee cartilage, including people who play high-impact sports such as:

  • Football
  • Basketball
  • Soccer
  • Tennis

Runner’s knee can cause dull, aching pain under or behind the kneecap, swelling, and a popping or grinding sensation in the knee. These symptoms are most likely to occur when you’re bending your knee while walking, squatting, kneeling, or running.

If your doctor has diagnosed you with runner’s knee, he or she may recommend that you rest your knee and avoid activities that exacerbate pain. You can also try to ease pain and swelling by applying an ice pack and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. In some cases, you may need to wear a brace or other supportive device to help stabilize your knee and keep it from buckling. Depending on the severity of the problem, runner’s knee may require surgery to correctly realign the kneecap.

Preventing Runner’s Knee

Runner’s knee can be painful—and may be an unwelcome disruption to your exercise routine. The good news: there are things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing this problem and to prevent it from getting worse. Try these tips for protecting your knees, whether you’re a serious athlete or simply a weekend warrior.

  • Ease into exercise. Be sure to warm up sufficiently before exercising and stretch your muscles after a workout.
  • Mix things up. You can guard against overuse by varying your exercise routine. Rather than running every day, add some strength training into the routine. It is important to strengthen the core, hips, knees, and ankles as well as varying the forms of cardio you do, such as swimming and spinning.
  • Get the right gear. Purchase high-quality sneakers with good support and replace them once they become too worn. Some people have foot problems that predispose them to runner’s knee. If this is true for you, your doctor may recommend orthotic shoe inserts.
  • Consider your surroundings. You are more likely to develop runner’s knee if you run or play sports on uneven or hard surfaces, such as hills, trails, concrete, or clay tennis courts. Try alternating surfaces as you train.
  • Don’t delay treatment. If you suspect that you have developed runner’s knee or otherwise injured yourself, seek medical help immediately and rest your injury before resuming any exercise routine.

For more information on common running injuries, visit the UPMC Sports Medicine website. To schedule an appointment or for more information, call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).