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Knee pain from sport

Unfortunately, knee injuries are a common occurrence in sports and account for up to 41% of all sports injuries. If you are experiencing knee pain while exercising or following an injury, it is essential that you speak to a specialist or your GP about receiving a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis for your knee pain has been confirmed, your Consultant will then be able to advise on the appropriate treatment options for you to alleviate your knee pain and help you to return to playing sport. 

If you participate in contact sports, you are more likely to suffer sudden knee pain. In most case, sudden knee pain is often caused by a sprain, tear or a swollen tendon (flexible cords of tissue that connect your muscle to your bone). However, your knee pain can also be the result of an injury such as a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). This is one of four ligaments in your knee that supports your knee joint and helps you move your lower leg.

We investigate common sports injuries which can cause knee pain, including their available treatment options and the steps you can take to minimise your risk of experiencing an injury.

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of four knee ligaments. It can tear if you stop or change direction suddenly, or if you land awkwardly from a jump. If you tear your ACL, you may hear a pop or crack at the time of the injury. A torn ACL can result in pain and swelling. Fortunately, effective treatment and pain relief options are available.

Other symptoms of a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) include:

  • Severe knee pain; 
  • Instability in your knee, being unable to put much weight on it, particularly when going up or down stairs;
  • Swelling in your knee, and
  • Not having the full range of movement in your knee and, in particular, not being able to straighten your leg completely.

ACL reconstruction is carried out using keyhole surgery and stabilises the knee joint.

After the surgery, you will have the freedom to return to your normal everyday activities without knee pain or the fear of the knee giving way unexpectedly.

Sport is a key cause of knee pain. Learn more about specific injuries and how to treat them.

Runner’s knee refers to a condition which gives rise to a significant pain on the outside and/or front of the knee. As the name suggests, this condition is highly prevalent in recreational long-distance runners.

Runner's knee symptoms

The pain itself arises from a combination of pain from the outer aspect of the patellofemoral joint or a friction syndrome related to the iliotibial band as this structure passes over the outer edge of the knee.

The latter problem may be compounded by information to a fluid filled sac known as the iliotibial bursa.

What causes runners knee?

The cause of runner’s knee is thought to lie in a biomechanical dysfunction in which a muscle imbalance develops between the hip flexor muscles and the iliotibial band itself.

These muscles become overactive and inflexible and the development of weakness to the gluteal muscles which extend the hip and contribute to rotational control around the hip and knee.

This dysfunction is thought to arise particularly in recreational runners due to the repetitive forward and backwards motion of the hip and knee without any lateral and rotational movements.

Can I run with a sore knee?

Stop running if you have pain in your knee or cannot bend and straighten your knee properly. If you still feel pain after a week's rest, see a GP or Physiotherapist for medical advice.

How long does runner s knee last?

How soon you can start running again will depend on the cause of your knee pain and how severe it is. A GP or physiotherapist can advise you.

How to treat runners knee

Runners knee treatment involves rectifying these faulty biomechanical patterns by changing training patterns, as well as following a programme of gluteal strengthening exercises and appropriate flexibility regimes.

In some cases, orthotics may be prescribed to help the alignment of the lower limb. Knee protection for runners is an important way to prevent injury. Wearing comfortable running shoes could help reduce your chances of injury. Wearing a compression sleeve over your knee can also help reduce knee pain.

Cycling knee pain is particularly common problem and almost always arises from the patellofemoral joint, the connection between the thigh and hip.

However, the cause of the patellofemoral pain may have a number of reasons, and it is important to identify and treat the specific biomechanical cause of an individual’s pain. You may experience front knee pain cycling, inside knee pain cycling, or pain in another area of your knee. 

The body position while cycling has the torso leaned forwards over the handlebars, which places the hip in significant amounts of flexion.

As a result, the hip flexor muscles, and quadriceps muscles of the thigh work repetitively in a very shortened position. This can result in significant muscle tightness and associated tightness of the patellofemoral joint itself.

A further factor in determining the cause of patellofemoral pain among cyclists is to analyse whether there are any biomechanical problems due to over rotation of the knee during the pedalling action.

Due to the significant relationship of cycling posture to cycling related knee pain, this problem is more often seen in road cyclists and triathletes who place their bodies in a more aggressive forward orientated position.

Treating cycling related knee pain involves physiotherapy to address hip joint and lower limb muscular inflexibility as well as muscular control and strengthening exercises to improve the ability of the hip and knee to resist rotational forces.

Bike fit is very important, adjusting the height and position of the saddle, handlebars and the positioning and angle of the cleats (if being used) is highly recommended.

If you have a sore, swollen or painful knee, a consultation with an experienced knee doctor is often the quickest and simplest way to get the treatment you need.

An experienced knee doctor will be able to narrow down the potential cause(s) of your knee pain when they talk with you about your symptoms. When the pain started, how long you’ve had it and the type of pain (e.g. sharp stabbing or dull ache) are all things your doctor will talk through with you as they try to get to the bottom of things.

There are some specific clinical tests a doctor may arrange as part of their assessment. As well as a physical examination of the knee, they may sometimes also arrange for you to have an X-ray, MRI scan or CT scan of the knee. A blood test may also be carried out in some situations. (These additional diagnostic tests will not always be needed; you will always be assessed on an individual basis by your consultant, based on your specific symptoms.)

It’s simple to book a time to see one of our experienced knee doctors. Just book an appointment online at a time that is most convenient to you. 

Specialists offering Knee pain from sport

Mr Neil Hunt

Consultant Specialist Knee Surgeon

MA MBBS FRCOS (Tr & Orth)

The Huddersfield Hospital

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