After my last half-marathon, I was hit with a pain I'd never felt before in my knees, particularly my left one. Every time I bent my knees? Pain. Sitting in a chair with bent knees? Pain. Exercising? More pain. Walking down stairs? NO.
I assumed it was runner's knee; after all, I had just done my second half-marathon in two months. But runner's knee is a blanket term that encompasses quite a few potential knee ailments, so I decided to check in with an expert. I consulted Dr. Pavika Varma, MD, who told me I'm dealing with patellofemoral pain syndrome, an overuse injury affecting the cartilage under the kneecap, which is under the umbrella of runner's knee. From there, Dr. Varma gave me some incredibly helpful advice on how to deal with and treat the pain.
Step 1: See a Doctor
If you're in pain that lasts for more than a couple weeks (or it's severe), your best bet is to pay a visit to the doctor. "You should see your doctor about knee pain if it lasts more than a couple of weeks," said Dr. Varma. "Knee pain from sprains or bruises can take up to a few weeks to heal, but if you find that the pain just is not subsiding or continues to occur, it is a good idea to visit your doctor for a thorough evaluation."
You'll also likely need a knee X-ray to accurately diagnose and potentially an MRI to check for damage, which is not something you can do on your own! Dr. Varma also told us that through these examinations, "your doctor will be able to rule out other causes of knee pain and make sure there is nothing else triggering your symptoms." When in doubt, visit the doctor.
Step 2: Ice, Elevate, Medicate
- Ice: Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the area every three to four hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
- Elevate: Raise the knee on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
- Medicate: Time for ibuprofen! Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines — also known as NSAIDs (much easier to remember) — are medicines like Motrin, Advil, and Aleve. "Many patients have a particular over-the-counter pain reliever they really like, so any of those three would do," said Dr. Varma. "As long as the medication is either ibuprofen or naproxen, it will be helpful in reducing the symptoms of runner's knee."
For a bit of natural medicine, Dr. Varma suggested using turmeric. "In Ayurveda (a form of traditional Indian medicine), turmeric is used widely as an anti-inflammatory agent due to one of its major components called curcumin," said Dr. Varma. "Growing up in an Indian household, we used it often to help with inflammation of the joints. It is completely safe and an all-natural way to help boost your body's immune system over a long period of time."
In regards to treating yourself with turmeric at the same time as taking your doses of ibuprofen, Dr. Varma said, "Turmeric is completely safe to take while taking NSAIDs. NSAIDs will provide more immediate relief, while turmeric is a supplement that will provide healing effects over a longer period of time."
I've taken Dr. Varma's advice by making golden milk and loading up on turmeric tonics, lemonades, and curries. Try making a turmeric recipe of your own to incorporate this healing spice into your diet.
Step 3: Rehab
Certain exercises can help strengthen the area around the knee to protect the injured area. Your doctor or PT will have specific exercises and stretches for you based on your specific syndrome or condition, but here's what Dr. Varma recommended for me:
- The clam
- Side-lying leg lift
- Quadriceps stretches (standing and laying)
- IT band stretch
- Prone hip raises
You might also want some rehab supplies like tape, straps, or a sleeve. Check with your doctor or physical therapist to determine your needs; from there, you can find these supplies at most pharmacies and sporting good stores.
Next up: Foam roll and massage the muscles around the knee. Tight, agitated muscles are only going to make your situation worse, so get your foam roller and massage ball and get to work. Your knee(s) will thank you.