Runners are faced both mental and physical obstacles head-on when racing towards their fitness goals. A little lack of motivation or mid-run fatigue won’t slow a runner down from getting in their mileage. And while minor aches and post-run soreness are part of the process, what about that knee pain after a long run?
One of the most common things non-runners say is that running is going to hurt your knees. In fact, runner’s knee is one of the most common running-related injuries.
But is runner’s knee behind why you feel pain in the back of the knee after a long run?
It’s expected to have muscle soreness following a long distance run. But this is targeted pain of the knee, specifically the back.
This knee pain can very well be patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), the board term used to identify knee pain. Also known as runner’s knee, this pain is usually identified as pain around the kneecap (patella).
Now you might be thinking well the pain is in the back of the knee, not that kneecap. Remember that PFPS is a general term used to diagnosed this type of knee discomfort. You also need to know a little biology to understand that there is a connection here.
The knee, a joint, consists of a thigh bone (femur), the kneecap (patella), and the shinbone (tibia). Around the kneecap are cartilage and ligaments. There are also two tendons at play: the quadriceps tendon located at the end of the quad muscle and the patellar tendon that stretches down from the kneecap.
With constant stress on this joint, the tendons and tissues that lubricated the cartilage become worn. The nerves then detect inflammation and pain.
What’s The Cause?
Because of the wearing of the articular cartilage located behind the kneecap, the kneecap then begins to touch against the thigh bone. This is the reason behind the pain behind the knee.
The cause behind PFPS is exactly what you don’t want to hear: overuse.
It’s not exactly known for sure why this happens, but it’s believed mostly to be because of overuse of the knee.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome can occur when a runner amps up the mileage or is simply working out too much.
And this doesn’t have to be just running. Changes to cross training can also play a role like if you start a new cardio program a few days a week like boxing that incorporates lots of jumping or squatting.
Another culprit is high aches or having flat feet. As a result, this causes tightness of the hamstrings or calf muscles which then effects the knee. Weak quadriceps muscles can also be a cause.
What It Feels Like
Runner’s knee can be felt during a long run or the hours and days following the run or overall increase of exercise. This can be felt on the sides of the kneecap, front or behind. It mostly is a dull pain that feels more than a typical soreness but not enough to feel like severe pain.
There are cases when the pain is less or more severe. This varies on the reason for the pain, if a previous injury exists, and in some cases may result in surgery. This is why it’s important not to ignore the pain if it is severe. Always consult a medical professional like a primary care doctor, orthopedist or sports injury doctor.
Is It Common?
Interestingly, women are more at risk for feeling this back of the knee pain after a long run. This is because women have a wider angled pelvis compared to men.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome is one of the most common knee-related injuries.
How Do I Treat It?
Dealing with the back of the knee pain shouldn’t keep runners on the bench when it comes to reaching their fitness goals. For most it might just mean some RICE:
Do so within 72-hours of the pain.
Taking ibuprofen may also help with inflammation of the knee.
Make sure to properly warm up before a run and stretch after. Foam rolling is also a great way to treat and prevent pain in the knee after a long run.
What Does It Mean If I Have Pain Behind My Knee While Running?, PMDHealth
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, Ortho Info
Patellofemoral pain syndrome, Jayne Leonard and William Morrison, MD Medical News Today