As a guide, you should expect it to take four to six weeks to recover from runner’s knee. However, every case of runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome) is unique. Some runners may recover more quickly, while others take longer to heal.
Let’s take a look at some factors and common questions that will dictate how quickly you can expect to recover from runner’s knee…
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How long should you rest from running when you have runner’s knee?
Realistically, the answer to this question is always specific to the individual runner. Your physiotherapist will be able to give you a proper answer.
Some patients may need to rest completely from running for a period of time, while others may only need to reduce their running volume, to reduce loading on the knee sufficiently to allow symptoms to settle.
It all depends on how severe (how much does it hurt) and irritable (for how long does it hurt after aggravation) your patellofemoral pain symptoms are.
On average, if symptoms are both severe and irritable, a period of 4-6 weeks rest from running (or reduction of training load) is usually sufficient to allow other treatments such as exercise-based rehab to have an effect before you can consider increasing your running again.
When Does Runner’s Knee Require Surgery?
Runners suffering from patellofemoral pain rarely require surgery. Usually, a full recovery can be made with non-invasive treatment.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for surgery, but it should, without doubt, be the last resort when all other options have been exhausted, outside of a few key situations…
For example, if your knee is popping, locking or even giving-way, then it could be that you have a loose body or unstable cartilage defect, for which surgery is often the only option, but trust me when I say these instances are rare.
Outside of this, surgical procedures for typical kneecap pain do not outperform conservative care in clinical trials and quality knee surgeons will usually leave well alone and make a referral to a physiotherapist for treatment.
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How to Prevent Knee Pain when Running
Will Runner’s Knee get worse if you continue to run through the pain?
Your pain may get worse in response to activity in the short term, but that doesn’t mean that your knee actually is getting worse.
Let me explain…
Remember that cartilage change is often unrelated to pain, and that either way, cartilage change as a result of activity takes months and years, not weeks!
It’s certainly sensible to look to get patellofemoral pain under control as quickly as possible, but do not despair if you have an event that you absolutely have to run, you can consider doing so if your pain is tolerable.
What can you do to promote recovery from Runner’s Knee?
There are two priorities I have when encouraging an injured runner to take steps to help themselves recover from patellofemoral pain more quickly.
1. Reduce Loading on the Injured Knee
Consider resting from running, or simply reducing your running volume. Training management is key and usually essential to get your pain under control.
I’ve previously written about the importance of load management in treating (and preventing) runner’s knee. You can find the article here, and learn more about training errors to should try to avoid!
If nothing else, try reducing the duration of your runs but consider increasing how often you run if you are desperate to maintain your weekly mileage ahead of an event.
2. Build Strength Around the Injured Knee
Increase your muscular strength and endurance. Key muscle groups such as the quadriceps and glutes are usually a main focus of a runner’s knee rehab programme, but don’t forget to strengthen your hamstrings and adductors.
Here’s an example of a simple runner’s knee rehab routine.
Fix Your Knee Pain >>
Free Rehab Guide [PDF]
Pain Relief for Runner’s Knee
If you need pain relief, go and get it.
This doesn’t have to mean medication; kneecap taping techniques and foot orthoses (shoe inserts) can often be very effective for runners with kneecap pain. If you’re considering shoe inserts, I would suggest seeking the advice of a podiatrist.
Change Your Running Technique to Cure Runner’s Knee
Consider changing the way that you run. This isn’t straightforward, but if your symptoms are related to your running form, this may be something you need to change.
Many runners will benefit from increasing their step rate (cadence). You can find more information about this here: Gait Re-training for Runner’s Knee – Patellofemoral Pain & Running Form
I hope this quick guide helps you in your recovery, and gives you a realistic idea of how long it will take to recover from runner’s knee.
If you have any questions, feel free to let me know in the comments below…
I like the helpful info you supply for your articles. Thanks for sharing a smart thought.
Good morning Dr. Brad Neal. I live and workout in Long Beach, California.
I was doing my usual 30 minute run on the treadmill at my local 24 hour fitness gym yesterday, Monday, 6/30/20, going at 6.3-6.5 miles per hour when excruciating pain shot up on my left knee, 18 minutes into the workout.
I don’t plan to run until this pain goes away completely. Meanwhile, I am on an on-leave status from my current job, sent home while awaiting return to work orders, due to the Covid 19 outbreak. The only Medical care options I have is to pay $400 a month on my Cobra insurance plan, or possibly get a referral on my Medi Call plan to go see a specialist. I am currently collecting unemployment insurance for the time I am at home, not working.
What low cost options could you recommend to naturally treat pain on my left knee? Can I self treat this condition, and if so, what would that involve? Would massage therapy and/or chiropractic adjustments help?
I am a whole foods plant based eater, and plan on loading up on natural anti inflammatory foods like garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric/cayenne pepper powders and lots of green vegetables to help out, while abstaining from processed junk food. Can these foods help the healing process?
While staying off running and brisk walking, would working out on the stationary bike at the gym to maintain my cardio exercise be a good idea or not – would this worsen the knee pain? How can I maintain my level of fitness now that I have knee pain?
Your advice is much welcomed.