Knee injuries? A Runner’s Guide to Recovery

Orthopaedics Infoline

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Knee pain is a common complaint amongst runners of all ages. The knee is one of the most overused parts of the body and although designed to carry load, it is vulnerable to injury.  

Running applies approximately five times your body weight directly to the knee joint, so it’s little surprise that many people experience knee pain and discomfort. But don’t hang up your trainer just yet.


There are many ways to diagnose and treat knee injuries from running. Formulating an effective treatment plan is key to relieving symptoms and restoring normal activity and function.

Contact us today to find out how we can help keep you running for longer. 

Regular running has multiple health benefits and there is good evidence to suggest that this activity helps strengthen the cartilage and muscles that support the knee joint. Injury and damage from running are more likely to occur through sudden, disproportionate activity or an incorrect technique. If you’re experiencing knee pain and want to understand your treatment options, here’s what you need to know.

Common Knee Conditions

The knee is a complex joint made up of bone, muscles, ligaments, tendons and cartilage. All these structures are susceptible to damage from sprains, tears, dislocations and fractures that can affect well-seasoned runners as well as those new to the activity. Common conditions include:

Runners Knee (Patellofemoral Pain syndrome or Chondromalacia Patellae)

Indicated by pain around the patella (kneecap) that worsens with exercise, this is the most common condition for runners and is associated with overuse. Thought to be caused by an imbalance in the supporting muscles, the cartilage gets irritated and causes pain. It can worsen with the intensity of exercise, as well as descending stairs or running downhill.

Patella Tendonitis

Causing pain at the front of the knee or top of the shinbone, this condition is common in downhill running and is notable by a swelling of the tendon that connects the patella (kneecap) to the upper tibia (shinbone). It is more prevalent in sports that include a lot of stopping and starting.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament Rupture

The ACL is the knee’s major ligament controlling rotational stability. A rupture of the ACL is often caused by a pivoting manouevre such as changing direction or a sudden change in speed. Reconstruction is often required if the patient wishes to return to pivoting sports.

Prepatellar (Kneecap) Bursitis

The prepatellar bursa is a fluid filled sack between the skin and bone at the front of the knee. Repetitive irritation such as kneeling for long periods can cause the bursa to become inflamed and swollen. This puts pressure on the surrounding tissues causing pain over the front of the knee. It is often referred to as Nursemaid’s or Nun’s Knees.

Meniscus Tear

The meniscus is the cartilage between the femur and the tibia, absorbing shock and distributing weight across the joint. As this cartilage weakens with age and wear, it is more prone to tearing causing swelling, pain and catching on the inside or outside of the knee. Often accompanied by other knee injuries, meniscus tears are a common cause of knee pain for runners.

Stress Fracture

A stress fracture is often caused by an increased training load, intensity or frequency on otherwise normal bone. Running on an unfamiliar surface such as a pathway rather than grass or a change in running shoes can aggravate a stress fracture.

IT Friction Band Syndrome

The IT band is a tendon that connects your hip to your knee. With overuse it can become irritated and inflamed, causing pain along the outer aspect side of the knee that can spread up the thigh to the hip area.


Knowing when to seek treatment

Rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) are the first steps to treating a knee injury. Gentle exercises to strengthen the knee, appropriate footwear and support tape can all contribute to recovery. If you are still in some pain after a week you should seek medical advice, particularly if your knee is swollen. You may be referred to an orthopaedic surgeon for further assessment, investigation and treatment.

Diagnosing your knee injury

That are several tests that can diagnose knee injuries. The information you give the doctor will help determine the next steps as the location of pain is a key indicator for the underlying cause. The doctor will examine you for tenderness, swelling, range of motion, and stability. Further investigations may be required such as:

  • X-ray – to check for fractures and arthritis
  • CT scan- to assess for fractures and alignment
  • MRI scan – to detect soft tissue damage such as meniscal tears, ligament injuries, loose bodies
  • Knee aspiration – draining of fluid to test and diagnose inflammatory conditions

Common surgical treatment options

If your knee does not respond to conventional treatment, there are many surgical options available for certain types of fractures and injuries that your doctor may recommend:


Knee arthroscopy

A minimally invasive procedure using a camera (arthroscope) to view and explore the inside of the knee joint. Using fine instruments, resection, repair and reconstruction of the internal structures of the knee can be performed when warranted.


Meniscectomy or meniscus repair

Where a portion of the torn meniscus is removed or repaired during a knee arthroscopy.

ACL Reconstruction

The torn anterior cruciate ligament is removed and replaced with a tendon graft, often harvested from from another part of your knee such as your hamstrings or patella tendon.


Knee replacement surgery 

Where the knee joint is replaced with artificial implants that simulate the natural function of the joint. This is rarely required in patients who are still capable of running.

There are many ways to diagnose and treat knee injuries from running. Formulating an effective treatment plan is key to relieving symptoms and restoring normal activity and function.

Contact us today to find out how we can help keep you running for longer.