Conditions & Treatments

Patellofemoral Stress Syndrome (Runner's Knee)

Patellofemoral stress syndrome is a condition common among runners involving knee pain caused by irritation of the cartilage of the kneecap.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee)

What is runner's knee?

Anatomy of the knee joint
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Runner's knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, is a condition characterized by dull pain around the front of the knee (patella), where it connects with the lower end of the thigh bone (femur).

What causes runner's knee?

Runner's knee may be caused by a structural defect, or a certain way of walking or running. Other causes may include:

  • A kneecap that is located too high in the knee joint

  • Weak thigh muscles

  • Tight hamstrings

  • Tight Achilles tendons

  • Poor foot support

  • Walking or running with the feet rolling in while the thigh muscles pull the kneecap outward

  • Excessive training or overuse

  • Injury

What are the symptoms of runner's knee?

The following are the most common symptoms of runner's knee. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in and around the kneecap that may be felt with activity, or even after prolonged sitting with the knees bent, occasionally resulting in weakness or feelings of instability

  • Rubbing, grinding, or clicking sound of the kneecap that can be heard at times when the knee is bent and straightened

  • Kneecap is tender to the touch

The symptoms of runner's knee may resemble other conditions and medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is runner's knee diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a runner's usually is confirmed with a complete medical history and a physical examination.

What is the treatment for runner's knee?

Specific treatment for runner's knee will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the injury

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, surgeries, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the injury

  • Your opinion or preference

The best course of treatment for runner's knee is to stop running until running can resume without pain. Other treatment may include:

  • Cold packs, compression, and elevation

  • Medications such as ibuprofen

  • Stretching exercises

  • Strengthening exercises

  • Arch support in shoes

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Imaging

  • Pediatric Imaging
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  • Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention
    The Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging offers state-of-the-art diagnostic exams including MRI and CT, interpretation by specialty-trained radiologists, and image-guided procedures for the bones, joints, and spine.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Rheumatology Program
    Pediatric rheumatologists at MassGeneral Hospital for Children specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of all rheumatic and inflammatory conditions of infants, children and adolescents.
  • Pediatric Orthopaedics
    The MassGeneral Hospital for Children Orthopaedics Service provides clinical care to infants, children and adolescents, from birth to college age, for the entire spectrum of musculoskeletal problems.
Department of Orthopaedics

  • Sports Medicine Service
    Our Boston Sports Medicine team provides comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation for sports-related injuries from recreational, amateur and professional sports. Our Harvard faculty specialize in ACL, MCL and meniscus injuries in athletes and non-athletes.

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