If your knee clicks as you run, you may have one of several conditions. These include iliotibial band syndrome, a meniscal injury or plica syndrome. Syndromes that lead to knee clicking often are often relatively easy to treat, though you may need to quit or scale back your running during the process. It’s important to visit your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for your clicking knee. Treatment frequently includes stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent future problems.
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IT Band Syndrome
One of the most common overuse injuries among runners is iliotibial band syndrome, commonly called IT band syndrome. Your IT band runs from your hip to below your knee. Since the band crosses your knee joint, it can tighten and snap across the knee as you run, which is what causes the clicking. Other symptoms of IT band syndrome include pain along the outside of your knee, which may present as a burning sensation or ache. The pain may radiate up the side of your thigh. This injury does not usually cause swelling or problems with knee motion. Stretching and muscle strengthening exercises are common treatments for IT band syndrome.
Plica syndrome will cause a clicking sound in your knee as you run. This syndrome occurs when the bands of synovial tissue called plicae are irritated. Either injury or overuse can cause the irritation. Normally, synovial plicae combine to form one large synovial cavity in the womb. However, in some people the plicae remain as four bands of synovial tissue within the knee. Other symptoms of plica syndrome include pain, swelling, weakness in your knee and knee locking. Common treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, reducing activity and icing followed by strengthening exercises. Your doctor also may recommend cortisone injections or surgery to remove the plicae.
The click in your knee as you run may be due to a meniscal injury. Your menisci may be injured when you rotate your knee while bearing weight, such as quickly twisting when you turn to hit a tennis ball. If the damage is minimal, your meniscus will stay connected to the front and back of your knee. You are most likely to feel pain when your knee is straightened. It’s possible for a past injury to become painful months or years later, especially if you hurt your knee a second time. Following an injury, your knee may click, give way, lock or feel weak. Your symptoms may disappear on their own. However, it’s common for symptoms to return or persist, requiring treatment. Physical therapy is frequently recommended for minor meniscal injuries. In severe cases, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Both IT band syndrome and plica syndrome are preventable. You raise your risk for such overuse injuries when you suddenly increase the intensity or duration of your running or add hills into your running route too quickly. Risk also goes up when you wear worn-out or poor quality shoes. Seek running shoes that have good shock absorption and construction. If you have flat feet, you may need shoe inserts. Also choose shoes and/or inserts designed to compensate for your foot motion if you overpronate or supinate too much, meaning you roll your foot inward or outward too much as you run. Not warming up adequately and inadequate stretching following a run are other risk factors. Maintaining a healthy weight helps too because obesity is another risk factor for overuse injuries to the knee. Running on a smooth, even surface reduces your risk for injuries such as meniscal damage.