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A runner holding his knee.

How to avoid runner’s knee

Running gets a bad rap for causing knee pain, but much of the criticism isn’t deserved, says Michael Behr, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Piedmont.

“Most arthritis is age-related and not caused by overuse,” explains Dr. Behr. “However, running and other high-impact activities can aggravate arthritis symptoms and take the fun out of exercise.”

He says it is possible to overdo it with any activity, which can lead to pain in the area behind the kneecap, also known as “runner’s knee.”

What to do if you have knee pain from running

With proper at-home treatment using the RICE method (rest, ice, compression and elevation), most knee issues will resolve themselves in four to six weeks.

“You can cross-train during this period, but it will be hard to heal if you continue running,” he says. “It’s like having a burnt finger that you put under the flame each day while trying to heal it. It can be very hard for dedicated runners to take four to six weeks off from training, but if you rest and get well, you can heal and move on from the injury. Otherwise, you’ll be dealing with the injury on and off for a long period of time.”

Preventing runner’s knee

“Make sure you have strong muscles around your legs and hips,” he says. “Muscles like your hamstrings and quadriceps help control your knee movement. Keeping them strong can reduce your risk of injury, as can regular stretching.”

He also recommends wearing sturdy, supportive running shoes and changing them out every four to six months if you log a lot of miles.

Medical treatment for runner’s knee

If you need medical intervention for runner’s knee, Dr. Behr says there are many effective nonsurgical options, noting that surgery is always a last resort.

“Physical therapy is very effective in treating runner’s knee,” he says. “Some people find relief with taping techniques using kinesiology tape, braces or a steroid injection.”

Talk to your doctor about running and knee pain.

“If you have a fair amount of arthritis in the knee, see a physician and get counseling about the best exercises for you,” he says. “Maybe you can go back to running or it may be best to do more cross-training, such as cycling, using the elliptical or swimming. You’ll get an equal amount of cardiovascular exercise, but won’t aggravate your arthritis symptoms as much as you might with running.”

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