Maybe you’ve been running and lifting weights more throughout the pandemic, trying to get in shape. Or maybe you’ve been sitting around too much.
Either way, you might feel some more pain at the front of your knees. Anterior knee pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal complaints seen in sports medicine. It can have countless causes but one of the little-known reasons is patellofemoral syndrome.
Patellofemoral syndrome, often referred to as “runner’s knee,” is thought to be due to joint overload. This can come in the form of muscle imbalance, poor knee mechanics, direct trauma, or patellar dislocation/instability. Common activities that can overload the knee include squatting, kneeling, running, prolonged sitting and stairs. Weak hips or flat feet can place undo stress on the knees and often predispose people to patellofemoral dysfunction.
Symptoms usually develop gradually rather than due to a single traumatic event. Pain is dull or aching in nature and found at the front of the knee. Pain is often worse at the beginning of exercise or after prolonged sitting. You might also hear a crunching sound, known as crepitus.
To find out why your knees are hurting, you should talk to a doctor. The physician will need to take a detailed history and complete a thorough physical examination.
When to seek medical attention
If you have knee pain that is not improving despite several weeks of rest, ice, compression and elevation then you should seek advice from your primary care physician or a sports medicine specialist.
Most patients can be treated for patellofemoral syndrome without surgery. The key is eliminating the causes of overload on your knees. This can be achieved by correcting muscle imbalance, weakness, or alignment problems. People who pronate or have flat feet may need orthotics to correct overpronation. Physical therapy plays a vital role in a quick and definitive recovery.
Advanced imaging and procedures are reserved for patients that fail to improve despite traditional interventions.
Dr. Kirk is a Primary Care Sports Medicine physician who joined Advocate Aurora Health in 2018.