If you’re suffering from knee pain, often referred to as runner’s knee where the knee joint or surrounding muscles are injured, you probably would love to get healed as quickly as possible. While you're most likely anxious to understand a typical runner's knee recovery time, there are some things you need to know about recovery and prevention.
What Is Runner’s Knee?
Runner’s knee is an injury that can occur from any activity that involves bending your knee repetitively: Walking, riding a bike, and, of course, running.
The technical term is “patellofemoral pain syndrome” and it presents as an aching pain in the knee cap.
There isn’t one injury that is described as runner’s knee because it’s caused by a variety of problems that all lead to pain in the same place.
How Can Runner’s Knee Happen?
Because the term covers a variety of painful injuries, there are a few ways in which runner’s knee can occur.
- Overuse. Doing a lot of repeated activities that involve bending your knee can lead to irritation in the joint.
- Injury. Anytime your knee takes a direct hit, runner’s knee can occur.
- Bone malalignment. If any of your leg bones is out of place, it can place extra pressure on the knee joint which will inhibit the movement of your kneecap, causing runner’s knee.
- Foot problems. Anything from flat feet to high arches can alter the way you walk and lead to excess pressure being placed on the knee.
- Weak quads. Your quads are located on the front of your thigh. One of their many functions is to keep your kneecap in place when you bend the joint. If you have a weak or injured quad muscle, your kneecap might move around and cause pain.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Pain is the most obvious symptom. You’ll notice is anywhere around your kneecap, even behind it.
You might have some swelling or feel a popping or grinding sensation in your knee when you walk, get up from a sitting position, or kneel.
Your doctor will do a physical exam for diagnosis. Often, other tests will be needed to pinpoint the injury. These can include x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs.
3 Things You Can Do to Have a Speedy Recovery
Depending on the scale of the knee injury, whether it is a meniscus tear, patellofemoral pain syndrome, or just a general knee pain, there are things runners can do to speed up the healing process.
While you should always follow your doctor’s advice and maybe take anti-inflammatory medication, there are some ways you can treat runner’s knee for a quick recovery.
- Rest. Stay off your feet and elevate your knee. DO NOT RUN. In fact, try not to walk. In order for your knee to recover fully, you need to give it time to do so. That means taking it easy for a little while.
- Ice. Ice will keep the swelling down and help keep the pain under control. If you need more pain relief, take an over the counter NSAID, like ibuprofen or naproxen, which will also help control the swelling. Try icing 3 to 4 times a day at first while you’re taking it easy. Once the pain starts to abate and any swelling goes away, it’s okay to ice only when necessary.
- Stretch and support. Make sure you get the all-clear from your doctor before you start stretching because you don’t want to start too soon and re-injure yourself. Stretching will help strengthen your joint so that you can avoid another injury in the future. For additional support, you could also consider wearing a knee brace when you are ready to get up onto your feet again. It might also be a good idea to continue wearing a knee brace when you start to run again after you’ve made a full recovery.
If It’s a Little More Serious
There is a chance your injury might not respond to home remedies and you’ll need more in-depth care. Your doctor might recommend a number of treatments.
If you need help doing strengthening exercises, you may need to go see a physical therapist who can help you understand the specific stretches and exercises you need to do to have a full recovery.
You doctor might also recommend you get special arch supports or orthotics for your shoes. They will help you with your foot position and you can make sure you don’t end up re-injuring yourself. Some people also use knee compression sleeves for temporary support However you need to be careful not to use these as a permanent fix. This will lead to more weakness in your knee an cause potential further damage.
If these things don’t work, you may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon, but it is rare to need surgery for runner’s knee.
Another thing your doctor might suggest is getting a corticosteroid injection to help control swelling. This isn’t a cure and won’t replace the stretching and strengthening you’ll need to do, but the reduced swelling could make it a little easier for you to get through your recovery.
When Will It Feel Better?
A runner's knee recovery time will be different for everyone and will depend on your body and the extent of your injury.
While we’ve talked about some ways to heal faster, it’s important to remember that you can’t rush things. All you can do is give you body as many opportunities as you can to rest so it has time to heal.
Take it easy when you get back into your regular routine. Swimming is a great way to get active again because it’s no impact and can help strengthen your knee without adding any additional pressure.
You should wait until your doctor gives you the all-clear to return to your pre-injury level of activity. Your knee will have to be pain-free, even when bending it and it will have to be as strong as your uninjured knee.
Healing and Prevention
Once you’ve fully healed, there are some things you can do to prevent the injury from happening again.
Keep your thigh muscles strong because they are responsible for keeping your knee cap stable. Stay in good shape and keep your weight in a healthy range so you put less stress on your joints.
Shoes are a big factor in preventing runner’s knee. While you don't have to buy the most expensive shoes, make sure you wear good running shoes with the right support for your feet. If the ones you have now are old or worn out, get new ones. You could also consider shoe inserts for extra support.
If you’re suffering from runner’s knee, take the time to rest, ice, and stretch your knee. Make sure you use the right support once you get back out there.
All runners need to take the time to care for runner’s knee properly as this will help lessen the pain quicker. The bottom line is the more you focus on getting healed the faster you can get back to enjoying yourself. If you don't you will be back to square one trying to figure out how to figure out a runner's knee recovery time.