A runners knee or iliotibial band friction syndrome is a common problem among runners. There is however a little misconception between a runners knee and the patellofemoral pain syndrome. These are two different things but are often mixed together.
So in on this page we will explain to you the difference between a runners knee and the patellofemoral pain syndrome.
We will also explain to you how you can treat your runners knee by yourself with a 3 exercises.
In fact, this is what you will learn today:
- What is a runners knee?
- What are the symptoms of a runners knee?
- What causes a runners knee?
- What is the difference between runners knee and patellofemoral pain syndrome?
- Runners knee treatment with 3 exercises
What is a runners knee?
A runners knee is caused by irritation of the iliotibial band.
Therefore the official name of this injury is the iliotibial band friction syndrome.
Medicinenet explains it perfectly:
“The iliotibial band runs along the lateral or outside aspect of the thigh and is an important structure that stabilizes the outside of the knee as it flexes and extends.
Inflammation of the iliotibial band can occur as it crosses back and forth across the bony prominence of the femoral epicondyle as the knee flexes and extends.”
Usually this crossing is no problem because there is not much friction. However when you iliotibial band gets to tight friction, might increase. This causes irritation and inflammation of the iliotibial band. This is what we call the iliotibial band friction syndrome or runners knee.
What are the symptoms of a runners knee?
The main symptom of a runners knee is pain on the lateral or outer side of your knee. You can also feel pain in different parts of the iliotibial band somewhere between your hip and your knee.
You can feel a thickend structure on the outer side of your knee.
When you touch it, it feels swollen and hurts. This is the tendon of your iliotibial band.
This pain can occurs during running, walking or climbing stairs. Symptoms may vary according to the severity of your condition. It can be a dull, stabbing or sharp pain.
Usually in rest you don’t feel pain at all but when your start moving your knee it may feel stiff and tight. You may be able to partly walk it off sometimes.
What causes a runners knee?
Unfortunately it’s not entirely clear what causes a runners knee. There are however a few factors that may contribute to the arise of a runners knee.
A study suggests that excessive hip adduction increases the tension on the iliotibial band. Due to the adduction of your hip your iliotibial band is stretched. When you put load on a stretched muscle or tendon tend to harden, making it tens.
Increased hip adduction is often caused by limited strength of your hip abductors like your glutes. Training your hip abductors may overcome this cause for iliotibial band friction syndrome.
Another study suggests that an increase in internal rotation of the knee is a risk factor for developing iliotibial band friction syndrome or runners knee.
This positions the insertion of the iliotibial band more anterior.
This results in more resistance during the extension phase of your knee.
The extra resistance in knee extension may cause the tightening of your iliotibial band and therefore the pain in your knee.
What is the difference between runners knee and patellofemoral pain syndrome?
We often see that the terms patellofemoral pain syndrome and runners knee are mixed together. Apparently it’s not very clear what the difference between these conditions is.
That’s why we will explain the difference to you:
The patellofemoral pain syndrome
With the patellofemoral pain syndrome the patellar tracking is disturbed. This causes the surrounding structures to become overused. Overusing of structures is the main cause of your pain. This is why your pain is diffuse and difficult to put your finger on.
The pain caused by a runners knee is present at the lateral side of the knee. The main difference between a runners knee and the patellofemoral pain syndrome is the location of the pain.
Another difference is that the pain caused by a runners knee is very specific at one place. The pain caused by the patellofemoral pain syndrome is more diffuse, can change from time to time and is different among patients.
Secondly having your knee in 90 degrees flexion for a long time can become painful or uncomfortable. With a runners knee moving your knee is painful but having it still in one position isn’t.
Runners knee treatment with 5 exercises
To cure your runners knee we have to address the causes as described above.
A study suggest that running 5% faster than preferred decreases step length during running.
“When step rate was increased 10% above preferred, peak hip adduction angle, as well as peak hip adduction and internal rotation were found to decrease.”
When step length decreases your maximum knee extension during running decreases also. This reduces the load on your iliotibial band along with the stretch. This reduces the friction and therefore the pain in your knee.
So apparently when you make slightly bigger steps the problem of internal rotation of your knee is corrected. Why this happens is unknown at this moment.
Stretching your Iliotibial band
A second cause for a runners knee was a tight iliotibial band. With the following exercise you can stretch your iliotibial band to reduce friction.
- Lay down on your healthy side with your legs straight.
- Move your painful leg still extended about 30 degrees forward and let it fall down on the ground.
- If you don’t feel the stretch in your iliotibial band you can move your leg a little back and forth until you do feel it.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat it multiple times a day.
You can also try to massage your iliotibial band using deep tissue massage or trigger point massage. Another option is to use a foam roller to reduce the tension of your iliotibial band.
Training and stretching your hip abductors
Both lack of strength and tightness of your hip muscles are known to cause iliotibial band friction syndrome. In order to overcome this problem we have to train your hip muscles without overusing your knee.
The purpose of this exercise is to increase the strength or your hip muscles.
Perform the exercise like this:
- Lay down on your healthy side
- Extend your leg and pull your toes towards you
- Lift up your leg with your knee extended
- Make sure you keep it in line with the rest of your body
You can also see how to perform the exercise on the video below.
Perform this exercise twice a day every day. Start with 3 sets of 10 repetitions and slowly increase it to 3 sets of 20 repetitions. With this exercise you can train your hip muscles without overusing your knee.
The purpose of this second exercise is to stretch your gluteal muscles.
You can perform this exercise like this:
- Grap with your hand your pain full knee
- Grap with your other hand your ankle
- Pull both your knee and your ankle to the opposite shoulder
- Hold this for 15 seconds
- Repeat this 3 times
You can also see how to perform this exercise on the video below.
Perform this exercise as often as possible.
The purpose of this last exercise is to increase the strength of your quadriceps. Weak quadriceps muscles increases the load on your knee. As we mentions before the iliotibial band is very important In stabilizing your knee. More load ask for more stability, causing your iliotibial band to be overloaded.
With the following exercise you can train your quadriceps muscles without overloading your knee even more.
Perform the exercise like this:
- Lay down on your back with your legs completely stetched
- Pull your toes towards you
- Now lift up your leg straight up and let it come down again
- Repeat this 10 times
- If this is to easy you can do it 15 or even 20 times
- Repeat this 3 times
You can see how to perform the exercise here below on the video.
Try to perform this exercise twice a day every day.
As you can see, you can treat your runners knee all by yourself with our 5 exercises. You just have to know what to do.
If you have any question feel free to e-mail me at [email protected].
Feel free to share this article with all your friends who also suffer from a runners knee.