The name can be misleading as the condition is frequently suffered by people who aren’t runners. Symptoms can include pain behind or around the kneecap (especially where the thighbone and the kneecap meet), pain caused by bending the knee when walking, squatting, kneeling, running, or even rising from a chair. You may also feel increased pain when walking downstairs or downhill. Swelling or a popping/grinding sensation in the knee can also be the result of runner’s knee. Chances are that you have tight, overactive hamstrings and an under active VMO muscle. This muscle imbalance leads to improper tracking of the knee cap over the joint, further leading to grinding of the kneecap against the thighbone. The subsequent pain can be debilitating and has shut down many running programs.
Your first step: inhibit the tight hamstrings–aggressively roll out the hamstrings with a rumble roller. For faster results, I recommend smashing your hamstrings with a lacrosse ball. Your second step: stretch and lengthen the hamstrings. Your third step: activate the muscle with the following VMO strengthening exercises: a) seated leg extensions with foot dorsiflexed pointing toward twelve o’clock, b) seated leg extensions with foot dorsiflexed pointing toward two o’clock, c) wall-sit leg raises with foot in dorsiflexion pointing toward twelve o’clock, and d) wall-sit leg raises with foot dorsiflexed pointing toward two o’clock. Your third step: perform integrated exercises such as ball squats with overhead press.
To prevent recurrence, be sure to keep good exercise technique. During the deceleration (lowering) portion of both squats and deadlifts, notice whether your knees initiate the move. If so, focus on initiating the move with your hips instead by sticking your butt out as you begin the move, then flexing the knees shortly thereafter. When jumping, perfect your landing technique–stick your butt out further as you land, which will allow the hips to absorb the brunt of impact, giving the knees a much needed break.
Happy running and jumping!