The benefits of running are well-known: It's an effective cardio workout and it makes you feel good all over. The drawbacks of running are also well-documented, with patellofemoral pain syndrome chief among them. The knee condition is so common that it's nicknamed runner's knee. In fact, research published in the January 2007 "American Family Physician" noted patellofemoral pain syndrome made up 25 percent of all injuries in runners. Luckily, the condition is treatable.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome is an overuse problem that results when the patella is misaligned on the femoral trochlea: in other words, when your kneecap comes off the track in your thigh bone. Think of a sliding glass door that's off its track and you'll get the picture. Every time you flex your knee as you run, the knee cap is scraping along its new misaligned pathway. The femur then bumps into the back of your kneecap, causing damage and making a disturbing sound.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome has classic symptoms, such as pain that feels like it's coming from behind your kneecap and pain that becomes more intense when you run downhill. You may also hear a crunching, grinding noise when you flex your knee. These are signs that you're suffering with patellofemoral pain syndrome, and you shouldn't take them lightly. Get to your doctor as soon as you can. The longer you let the condition fester, the more damage you may be doing to your knee.
To rid yourself of pain, you'll first have to follow the RICE method. That means you'll have to rest your knee, ice it for 20 minutes at a time, wear a compression brace or bandage and elevate your knee on pillows. When the pain goes away you'll need to bulk up the key knee muscles: the quadriceps, hamstrings in your thigh and gluteals in your hip. These muscles help stabilize the kneecap to keep it on its track. They also absorb the pressure you place on your knee when you run, which, by the way, is more than half your body weight. If physical therapy doesn't do the trick for your patellofemoral pain syndrome, you may need surgery.
Keeping your patella on its track may be a chronic challenge. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that you wear good running shoes; warm up for five minutes and then stretch your leg muscles before a run; and run on smooth, soft surfaces. If you are overweight, the Academy also recommends that you lose weight to relieve pressure on your knees. Because patellofemoral pain syndrome is an overuse injury, you're also advised to increase your running routine gradually and avoid running down steep hills.
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