Children's Hospital Colorado
Sports Medicine Center

Anterior Knee Pain and Runner's Knee

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What is anterior knee pain, commonly known as "runner's knee"?

Teenagers who participate in sports often develop an achy pain in the kneecap. This prolonged pain in the front of the knee, called anterior knee pain, is fairly common in young athletes and is typically aggravated (made worse) with physical activity.

This condition is also known as patellofemoral pain, chondromalacia of the patella or "runner's knee" and is due to abnormal tracking of the kneecap.

What causes knee pain?

The anatomy of the knee is very sensitive to changes in alignment, training and overuse. If the kneecap pulls out of its normal groove, it can cause pain behind the kneecap. A number of factors may be involved, including:

  • Imbalance of the muscles around the knee joint
  • Poor flexibility of the quadriceps (thigh muscles) or hamstring muscles
  • Problems with alignment of the kneecap
  • Improper or high intensity sports training techniques
  • Overuse

Who gets anterior knee pain?

Anterior knee pain, or runner's knee, often occurs in young athletes and is the most common overuse injury among runners. It can also happen to other athletes who do activities that require a lot of knee bending, such as biking, jumping or skiing.

Teens will generally not damage their knee by continuing with their activities, but it can cause an increase in pain. The pain might also be increased by walking after sitting for long periods of time, or going up and down stairs. This pain could simply mean that the athlete needs to adjust his or her training routine.

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Get to know our pediatric experts.

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Julia Sanders, MD

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