Whether you’ve just started a couch-to-5K running program or you’re a seasoned marathoner, you’re probably no stranger to aches and pains in your legs and knees as you grow muscle and improve your stamina. But how do you know if the pain is normal or part of a bigger issue?
What is the most common type of knee pain? And what does it mean if you have pain behind your knee when you run? Read on to find out.
Understanding Pain Behind the Knee
More often than not, pain behind the knee is diagnosed as patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). PFPS can be caused by overuse (such as recent changes in your exercise routine), biomechanical abnormalities (such as a high arch or flat foot) or muscle dysfunction (such as weak quadriceps, tight hamstrings or tight calves).
PFPS typically feels like mild or severe discomfort that radiates from the back of the knee cap touching the thigh bone. It is particularly common in runners, cyclists, basketball players and other sports players who run or place pressure on the knee.
Is Pain Behind the Knee Normal?
Pain behind the knee, or anterior knee pain, is a very common complaint with high impact exercises like running. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it should be ignored or left untreated. If you experience swelling, clicking, popping, locking or giving-way of the knee, it’s important to see your physician to rule out ligament or soft tissue damage.
When you first notice pain behind the knee, it will be particularly helpful to track your exercise regimen with a fitness app to identify periods of intense exercise and how your activity level varies. You’ll also want to make note of thsitee intensity of the pain on a scale of 1-10, where the pain occurs, whether it occurs at different times of the day (which could indicate arthritis) and whether it diminishes over time. Tracking all of this information will inform your physician on details that can be helpful in your diagnosis and treatment plan.
Strengthen Your Knees to Avoid or Lessen Pain
If you’re experiencing pain behind your knees while running, it doesn’t mean you’re destined to stop exercising. There are many simple things you can do every day to reduce or completely avoid the pain. Here are six strategies to start with:
- Add RICE to your routine. RICE - or Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate - helps decrease inflammation swelling to give your knee a chance to heal. This is especially helpful if the pain is a result of aggravation or soft tissue problems.
- Strengthen your quadriceps. Sometimes knee pain comes from weakened muscles above or below the knee. A certified health coach or physical therapist can prescribe quadricep strengthening exercises, such as straight leg raises, which will help you tone the muscles that connect to your knee.
- Stretch your legs. If you’ve just begun a running routine, basic leg stretches are especially helpful to prevent or decrease pain.
- Use tape or a brace. Athletic taping and bracing can stabilize your knee and protect it from further damage.
- Buy the right footwear. Proper footwear and insoles will ensure that your shoes actually meet the needs of your heel, arch and knee. Many specialty shoe stores can do a free gait analysis - an assessment of the way we walk or run that identifies any biomechanical abnormalities. With the results of your gait analysis and your movement patterns, the shoe store can recommend the best products.
- Modify your exercise. More often than not, it’s dangerous to push through pain. As you heal from whatever is causing the pain in your knee, consider modifying the frequency, intensity, time and type of exercise you perform.
Knee pain can be an uncomfortable and disheartening effect of an exercise routine. However, working with a certified health coach or your physician can help you identify the source of pain before it becomes a bigger issue and take the right steps to ease or avoid the pain in the future.
Call PartnerMD today to learn how a health coach can assess your knee pain and help you tweak your workout to avoid it.