How Chiropractic Care Can Relieve the Pain of Runner’s Knee
If your knee pain has been steadily intensifying (or you’re feeling pain even when you’re not very active) you may have developed runner’s knee. Patients sometimes think the condition only occurs in habitual runners, but runner’s knee is an umbrella term for a wide range of painful knee injuries medically referred to as Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PPS).
In this post we’ll cover the causes, prevention tips, symptoms and effectiveness of chiropractic care for runner’s knee.
What May Be Causing Your Runner’s Knee?
Although it doesn’t entail broken bones or torn tendons, runner’s knee causes pain and discomfort for almost 20% of Americans1 over the age of 45. How? The root causes vary widely, but osteoarthritis — wear-and-tear of the joint cartilage that cushions the ends of our bones — is the most common cause for this age group. That firm, slippery tissue that enables frictionless joint motion can deteriorate until bone rubs on bone.
How can you stave off this deterioration? Chiropractic care for runner’s knee is an effective prevention strategy that can minimize or slow down deterioration by increasing your mobility, range of motion and strength. Bonus? It can also decrease your risk of falls and fractures. Randomized controlled trials2 have demonstrated that chiropractic care helps prevent knee injuries in athletes, which is why so many sports teams have made it a best practice.
Runner’s knee can affect all age groups and demographics. The reason? Symptoms of runner’s knee can be attributed to structural misalignments like:
- Flat feet
- High arches
- Pigeon toes
- Knock knees
- High-sitting kneecaps
Weak thigh muscles or ankle joint mobility issues can also force a person to run or walk in a strained way, generating friction between the kneecap and femur, which gradually breaks down cartilage, and eventually disrupts your mobility and your daily routine. How?
Musculoskeletal misalignment, muscle weakness and immobility can lead to inflammation and damage to your:
- Knee tissues
- Bursa (fluid-filled sacs between tendons and bones)
- Synovial membrane (joint lubricant producer)
Overuse can also cause inflammation in this delicate joint. That’s why runners, jumpers, skiers, cyclists, soccer players, football players, tennis players and skateboarders who put heavy stress on their knees often struggle with runner’s knee symptoms. That’s also why so many of these athletes leverage chiropractic care for runner’s knee prevention.
Common Symptoms of Runner’s Knee
Although the type and degree of symptoms vary from person to person, and even from life stage to life stage, the most common symptoms of runner’s knee are:
- Dull, aching pain in the front, back and all around the kneecap that gradually intensifies
- Pain that increases when running and eases when still
- Pain while bending the knee for long periods (like driving a car or sitting at a desk)
- Rubbing or grinding with clicking or popping sounds in the kneecap
- Swelling around the kneecap
- Increased discomfort when running, sitting for long periods and going up or down stairs
Sore kneecaps after exercising are not normal — they require professional attention to discover the root cause. Treating your symptoms with painkillers or ice will help in the short-term, but will not target the root cause of your runner’s knee.
Doctors of Chiropractic investigate the root cause of your pain, then perform adjustments and prescribe active therapies that are targeted to the type and severity of your injury. If your diagnosis severity requires more aggressive treatment, they can also refer you to another type of specialist.
Can You Prevent Runner’s Knee?
Depending on your age, joint structure, general health, diet and lifestyle, you may be able to prevent runner’s knee, or at least stave it off for a few years. An experienced Doctor of Chiropractic can identify your weakest muscles and strategically work to strengthen them via adjustments and active therapies — which will increase in difficulty as you grow stronger.
In addition to strengthening your muscles to help prevent re-injury, chiropractic care has been shown to improve your:
- Joint mobility and coordination
- Joint function and performance
- Nerve communication
Your DC will also encourage you to rest whenever your body signals you with pain, strain or discomfort. Overstressing your joint muscles and tendons can lead to serious injuries that can hinder your healing.
Performing gentle knee mobility exercises at home between chiropractic appointments can help you prevent the swelling, pain and immobility of runner’s knee while strengthening your muscles and joints.
Knee Mobility Exercises You Can Do At Home
It’s a good idea to consult with your DC the first time you try these knee mobility exercises to ensure that you’re safely and gently working the proper muscles. Make sure to take breaks and allow your body to recuperate between each one.
- Lie on the floor on one side
- Grasp your ankle
- Pull your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh
- Tighten your core muscles while keeping your knees as close together as possible
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Switch legs and repeat
- Stand at arm’s length from a wall
- Place your right foot about a foot behind your left foot
- Bend your left leg forward while keeping your right heel on the floor
- Hold your back straight and your hips and feet forward
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Bend your right knee as you bend your left leg forward
- Switch legs and repeat these knee mobility exercises as often as possible
Knee Range of Motion Exercise
- Sit with both legs out in front of you
- Hold a towel around your ankle and hold it with both hands
- Pull the towel and slide your ankle towards your buttocks while keeping your heel on the ground
- Continue pulling the towel as far as your knee can bend
- Hold for about 30 seconds
- Slide your ankle back to the starting position
- Switch legs and repeat
These simple knee mobility exercises can help keep you functional until your DC appointment.
How Does a Doctor of Chiropractic Diagnose the Root Cause of Your Runner’s Knee?
Your Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) will spend your first session establishing the root cause of your runner’s knee, assessing your health history and discussing your goals.
Because there are so many possible root causes for runner’s knee and so many health and lifestyle triggers that can aggravate it, getting a proper diagnosis and personalized care plan requires seeing a neuro-musculoskeletal expert.
Your DC will examine your lumbar spine (low back). When your lumbar spine nerves, which supply the muscles around your knee joint become damaged (by anything from arthritis, trauma or slipped discs) you may feel pain in your knee.
Your DC will also check whether yourpelvis is out of alignment, causing your body weight to be distributed on your legs unevenly, destabilizing your knee. These are examples of referred pain — pain that is caused in one place and felt in another — and resolving it may require a knee adjustment protocol.
Doctors of Chiropractic specialize in tracking and treating referred pain, just as they track and treat joint misalignment and muscle weakness. After a thorough exam, your DC will be able to tell you whether your pain is being caused by:
- Misaligned knees
- Misaligned lumbar vertebras that are referring nerve stress and pain your knee
- Misaligned pelvis referring nerve stress and pain from your hip
- Weak thigh muscles that are putting strain on your knees
- Lagging ankle mobility causing you to alter your knee position
- Overuse of your knee muscles
Only after identifying and assessing the location and degree of your joint damage will your DC begin to craft your personalized care plan.
How Will Chiro One Doctors Treat Your Runner’s Knee?
Misalignment and muscles strains require the strengthening of muscles surrounding your knee joint damage. Chiropractic care accomplishes this with a highly targeted, personalized combination of:
- Gentle adjustments to realign your bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons, making them less susceptible to strain and inflammation (which cause pain)
- Active therapies — personalized stretching and weight-bearing exercises that soothe stiff, tense muscles, relieve pressure from your knee, strengthen muscles and help support the chiropractic adjustments you receive
Decades worth of clinical trials across the globe have shown the efficacy of chiropractic care for runner’s knee, as well as other musculoskeletal pain that’s caused by misaligned joints, structural challenges, tissue microtears or weak muscles.
In fact, the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Journal3 reviewed 15 large studies on exercise therapy modalities for runner’s knee pain and demonstrated that exercise therapies have a strong pain-reducing effect on patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS).
When first prescribed, active therapies may feel like assignments, but patients often tell us that after a couple of weeks these strategic personalized protocols become part of a lifestyle that helps them move more freely and painlessly through their days (or marathons).
Ready to Manage or Prevent Runner’s Knee Pain without Medications or Surgery?
Check in with your nearest Chiro One doc at one of our welcoming open-plan clinics across the country. They’ll explore the root cause of your pain with a thorough exam, then personalize a care plan — a combination of gentle chiropractic adjustments and active therapies.
Find a Chiro One doctor near you
- Knee arthritis in Americans has doubled since 1940, 2017
- The effect of a sports chiropractic manual therapy intervention on the prevention of back pain, hamstring and lower limb injuries in semi-elite Australian Rules footballers: a randomized controlled trial, 2010
- Effectiveness of Exercise Therapy in Treatment of Patients With Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 2014