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QUIZ: Is It Runner’s Knee or Arthritis? Find Out Here

Runner’s knee and arthritis share a common symptom – severe joint pain. Differentiating between both conditions will enable you to manage your discomfort better.

Woman standing on a stone pavement outdoors while bending and holding her right knee with both hands

So, you’ve recently picked up running to attain specific fitness goals or, like Forrest Gump, as a means of escapism? Kudos! The activity promotes the release of endorphins that relieve and promote general well-being. However, runners are at increased risk of a physical injury called runner’s knee. 

Meanwhile, knee arthritis is a disease that stems from multiple causes, such as being a woman over 50 years old, having gout, being obese, or having a previous injury.

Take this quiz to discover if your knee pain is caused by runner’s knee or arthritis.

If You Answered Mostly Yes

Woman sitting on a sofa while placing an ice pack over her right knee
An ice pack can help suppress knee swelling.

You potentially have runner’s knee. Clinically, it’s believed that it happens for several reasons, including: 

  • Structural defects 
  • Malalignment of the kneecaps 
  • Abnormal running or walking form 
  • Vigorous training that leads to knee overuse 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is of the viewpoint that symptoms of the condition arise from a gradual accumulation and formulation of pathogenic factors within segments of the six meridian channels surrounding the knees. These factors – Cold, Wind, Heat, Dampness, and Blood Stasis – can disrupt blood and qi (vital life force) circulation, making your muscles, tissues, and knee joints more susceptible to injury and degeneration.

Steps to alleviate runner’s knee 

A healthcare provider may look into your medical history and perform a physical examination to diagnose the condition. An X-ray can also determine the extent of knee damage. 

The treatment options prescribed will be determined by your age, symptoms, and overall well-being. Each recommendation will aim to ease pain and increase the range of motion. Examples of these are: 

  • Leg elevation 
  • Patellofemoral taping 
  • Cold packs 
  • Knee braces 
  • Pain-killing medications  
  • Shoe inserts 
  • Compression knee wraps 
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises 

Senior Physician Brandon Yew of Real Health Medical advocates using acupuncture, blood-letting, cupping therapy, gua sha, tui na, and herbal medications to reduce swelling, restore blood and fluid circulation, loosen musculoskeletal tension and stiffness, relieve pain, and help the joint regain flexibility and mobility.

A few acupoints that, when stimulated, can provide mild relief are:  

  • Wei zhong (Bl40, 委中) 
  • Wei yang (BL39, 委阳)
  • Xi yang guan (GB33, 膝阳关) 
  • Yang ling quan (GB34, 阳陵泉) 
  • Yin gu (KI10, 阴谷)
  • Qu quan (LR8, 曲泉) 
  • Yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉
  • Xue hai (SP10, 血海) 
  • Liang qiu (ST34, 梁丘) 
  • Du bi (ST35, 犊鼻) 
  • He ding (EX-LE2, 鹤顶)
  • Nei xi yan (EX-LE4, 膝眼)  

Herbal formulas too, can be beneficial for runner’s knee by dissipating and dispelling pathogens – Cold, Wind, Heat, Dampness, and Blood Stasis – restoring and enhancing blood and qi circulation within the meridians, and muscles, tissues, and bones of the knee joints. These include Xuan bi tang (宣痹汤), Yi yi ren tang (薏苡仁汤), Shen tong zhu yu tang (身痛逐瘀汤), and Dang gui nian tong tang (当归拈痛汤). 

If You Answered Mostly No

Woman using her left hand to hold her left hamstring while standing
A tight hamstring will compress the knee and deteriorate the joint.

Your symptoms are indicative of knee arthritis. It arises from the same factors as runner’s knee, but can also be provoked by Kidney, Liver and Spleen Deficiencies. It’s also worth remembering that runner’s knee often escalates to become arthritis.

“Stiffness and tightness in the quadriceps and hamstrings will compress the knee, thus increasing friction within and wearing out the joint. For instance, tight quadriceps relate to pain under the kneecap. In addition, if a person’s weight is not centred, it’ll result in one leg bearing more weight than the other, adding stress to that side of the body”, explains Real Health Medical’s Doctor of Chiropractic, Simon Shen.

Steps to prevent or manage knee arthritis

Prevention is possible by making a few lifestyle changes. Start by changing your form. Engage in strength-building workouts like pilates, yoga, and weight training.

Reduce the frequency and intensity of running, and rest more between each run. Doing so will allow your body to recover effectively so that you can continue to reap the health benefits of running.. It’s also advisable for you to get sufficient restful sleep, limit alcohol consumption, and eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Separately, the formulas that were previously recommended for runner’s knee, as well as San bi tang (三痹汤), Du huo ji sheng tang (独活寄生汤), and Yang xue zhuang jin jian bu wan (养血壮筋健步丸) can also be used to ease arthritic symptoms.

Likewise, activation of acupoints like xuan zhong (GB39, 悬钟) tai xi (KI3, 太溪), tai chong, (LR3, 太冲), guan yuan (RN4, 关元), qi hai (RN6, 气海), san yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交) and zu san li (ST36, 足三里) help strengthen the muscles, bones, and sinews of the knee.

Early intervention is necessary for calming the symptoms associated with runner’s knee and arthritis. Although the latter condition can’t be permanently treated, treatment can help fend off a symptom flare-up. Speak to a licensed TCM practitioner if you’re keen on using herbal formulas or traditional physical therapy.

If this quiz has enabled you to discover what gives rise to your knee pain, share it with your family and friends! 

References

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. Endorphins: The brain’s natural pain reliever. [online] [Accessed 13 May 2022]
  2. Versus Arthritis. Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. [online] [Accessed 13 May 2022]
  3. Cedars Sinai. Runner’s Knee. [online] [Accessed 13 May 2022]

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