IT Band Friction Syndrome (ITBFS)
IT-band issues are one of the most common nuisances that plague runners. ITBFS occurs when the tendon from your hip to your outer knee gets tight and therefore inflamed, irritating the outer knee bone. If you feel knee pain when running and tightness on the outside of your knee, ITBFS may be why.
Fix it: Bummer alert: Leon Popovitz, MD, founder of the New York Bone and Joint Specialists in New York says the only way to ease severe ITBFS pain is to completely rest the tendon (aka stop running). Physical therapy may also be needed to ease the inflammation. For mild cases, a foam roller to stretch post-run will quickly become your best friend. Try these tips to help ease IT band woes.
If you've recently upped your mileage or have increased your intensity in a short amount of time, the overuse of your knee can cause the tendons surrounding it to become strained and inflamed. This overuse is called tendonitis and can make your morning jogs pretty miserable.
Fix it: Tendonitis issues can typically be resolved with rest, ice, compression, and easing back into your usual routine. Scott Weiss, DPT, licensed physical therapist, board-certified athletic trainer, and exercise physiologist also recommends eccentric exercises like hamstring drops to gently stretch the tendons and prevent knee pain when running.
Similar to ITBFS, runner's knee occurs when cartilage in the kneecap is irritated, causing mild to moderate pain when running. With runner's knee you'll most likely feel pain while running, when going up and down stairs, or after prolonged periods of sitting, instead of the feeling of tightness ITBFS causes.
Your meniscus sits on both the inside and outside of your knees, helping to provide stability and distribute the stress of the weight you put on your joints. One wonky bend or fall can tear the meniscus, which typically results in slight knee swelling (anywhere from immediately to an hour after), and pain when bending your knee.
Fix it: The only way to confirm a meniscus tear is to go see your doctor, who will usually follow up with an MRI. While some outer tears may heal with rest, larger tears may call for surgery.
ACL and/or MCL Tears
Ligament tears can happen for a number of reasons, such as twisting your knee funny (say, as you stumble in a divot or pothole during a run) to extending your knee too far or having to stop suddenly mid-stride. Your ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) is the ligament that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone on the outside of your knee while your MCL (medial collateral ligament) does the same on the inside of your knee.
Fix it: Though rare for the everyday casual runner, if you hear a loud pop, experience sudden or extreme pain, or have difficulty putting any weight on your leg, you may have an ACL or MCL tear and should see a doctor as soon as possible for your best course of action and rehabilitation plan.
If you're feeling a little creaky and tender in general, your knees may be taking more abuse than they can stand. Maybe it was extra miles, or a bad fall on that last loop of the track. When this happens, your knee extends past its comfortable point and sprains.
Fix it: Get yourself checked out by a doctor, and make sure to rest, ice, and elevate your knees whenever possible. Compression is also important, just don't wrap your knee too tightly, as that could cause more swelling. OTC medications can also help reduce inflammation and pain so you can get back on your feet faster. Remedy that probably won't work: reinacting the Saved by the Bell "sprain" dance à la Lisa Turtle.