Have you ever experienced sudden intense anterior knee pain or pain along either the medial or lateral joint line?  What about catching, popping or locking?  Well, if so you are not alone.  Many people suffer from patello-femoral pain and meniscus tears.

I am currently working with a marathoner who recently ran her own personal best 3:34 at the Boston Marathon.  She has had various overuse injuries over the few years I have worked with her as distance runners often do.  However, after I came back from vacation the second week of this month she had an increased pain along the medial part of her knee.  It all began after running hills 5 days in the same week.

My initial thought was she probably had increased inflammation of the patello-femoral joint as all the downhill running creates a more compressive load between the back of the knee cap and the femur.  Not to mention 5 days in one week was simply too much.  Needless to say I did not advise her to do as much.

Her initial exam revealed some mild medial joint line tenderness, no swelling and no gait deviation.  Her biggest issue was with squatting below 45 degrees and pain near the medial border of the patella.  She also had no pain with rotation of the knee with that foot fixed on the ground (I was particularly looking at valgus loading with rotation to tweak the medial meniscus).  My initial assumption was that the pain would resolve with relative rest and minimizing compression at the P-F joint. 

Relative rest really does not enter into the realm of reality for marathoners.  So, my client continues to complain of knee pain after running (not so much during).  Her chiropractor feels she may have torn her medial meniscus.  I re-evaluated her yesterday.  Findings: mild medial joint line tenderness, no swelling, no locking, negative Apley compression and McMurray testing.  But, she did have pain with internal rotation of the femur when standing on just the affected leg.  Hmmm???

Now, most meniscus tears occur with trauma that typically involves twisting and compression or an associated ACL tear.  However, in runners, the repetitive nature of running can cause a gradual degeneration of the meniscus particularly if there is arthritis present in the knee.  For more info on meniscus tears click here

So, she will be seeing the sports medicine doc next week.  She may have a small tear.  She may just have an irritated P-F joint.  She may have both.  The take home message is really this: the most sensitive test for meniscus tears (whether medial or lateral) is joint line tenderness so we need to be sure in her case.  If you work with female clients, you can safely bet most of them will have some form of patello-femoral arthritis by the time they are in their thirties.  If they are overweight, the relative chances and rate of progression are simply higher. 

I will keep you posted on the verdict with my client as she does not have a straightforward case in my opinion.  She exhibits an inconsistent pattern of symptoms so I am not willing to rule out the tear at this point.  Regardless, this situation calls for rest (as much as she will concede to), modification of strengthening to reduce P-F compression, and also evaluating hamstring work greater than 90 degrees as this too will pull on the menisci and can potentially increase pain and strain on that tissue.  Stay tuned and keep your knees fit!