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Runner's knee is often called ITB friction syndrome (ITBFS), but the two are actually different things. "Runner's knee happens when cartilage in the kneecap is irritated, while ITB friction syndrome occurs when the tendon from your hip to the outer knee gets tight and inflamed, irritating the outer bone of the knee," says Leon Popovitz, MD, founder of the New York Bone & Joint Specialists in New York. Combined, these two make up a majority of the knee problems runners experience.
So how do you tell the difference? With ITBFS the pain is usually isolated outside of the knee, says Dr. Popovitz. The tendon will feel very tight (almost like a cord) and pain will often radiate up into the hip. Both runner's knee and ITBFS will flare up when you're going up or down stairs. Or if you sit for a while you might have some stiffness and difficulty getting up.
Fix It Fast: Dr. Popovitz says the number of patients he sees with ITBFS and runner's knee increases right before the New York City Marathon, as runners are increasing their mileage. With runner's knee, Dr. Popovitz recommends hamstring stretches and leg lifts at home, in addition to physical therapy -- though he's aware many of his patients suffer through it until after their race. For ITBFS, the only way to cure it is to completely stop running, rest, and alleviate the tendon inflammation with physical therapy. (We know. Not something you want to hear a week before your big race!)