Knee pain is common in runners and a common cause is the patella or knee cap. Pain caused by the patella is often called patello-femoral syndrome or PFS for short. The pain can be severe enough to stop runners going out but also occurs in other sports people and non-sports people alike.
Chiropractor and physio treatment in Brighton
The research on PFS treatment is poor. The studies that have been done are often of poor quality and come up with conflicting results for all sorts of treatment and this can be confusing not only if you are a runner looking for something to help but also if you are a physio or a chiropractor treating these common knee problems.
One of the recent reviews (1) looking at all the evidence for orthotics in the treatment of PFS, sometimes called Runners Knee, found little difference between the groups given orthotics and those given flat insoles which were supposed to do nothing. The other trial which met the criteria compared physio exercises and orthotics. Again not much difference was found between the 2 groups. Delving deeper into the 2 trials reveals why the orthotics groups did not do so well as groups in other trials – but more of that below.
Another study (2) into patello-femoral pain found that orthotics may indeed help. In fact more than three quarters of the runners involved improved. The authors concluded that orthotic or orthoses as they called them may have had a significant effect. This study was excluded from the larger review because it did not meet all the inclusion and exclusion criteria. For example some of the patients were only 12 years old and the study was not a randomised controlled trial.
The difference with this small study and the previous review is that the runners were analysed much more carefully. Their feet, ankles and knees were measured and an orthotic prescribed if they had the right sort of problem.
Chiropractic treatment may help
There are many different causes of PFS. One cause is thought to be over-pronation or excessive flattening of the arch after the heel strikes the ground. If you have over-pronation and it is contributing to PFS then you may respond well to the correct orthotic. If you have PFS from another cause, a weak thigh muscle for instance an orthotic will be a waste of time. In this case a pelvic joint manipulation by a chiropractor may help as in this study (3).
A correct diagnosis of the knee pain is essential for the correct treatment to be applied. A thorough examination should reveal the cause of the problem so that the right treatment can be applied. Too often clinicians use a one size fits all approach that is doomed to fail. This may well also explain why some studies don’t show an improvement whereas others do.
Orthotic buying advice
You can spend a fortune on a custom made orthotic and except in rare cases it is completely un-necessary. Other trials comparing custom made orthotics, often costing several hundred pounds, with much cheaper off-the-peg versions fail to show a difference in the outcome of symptoms.
We have found Superfeet insoles an effective and cost-effective option. They cost between £25-32 and are available on an unconditional money back guarantee from the manufacturer. So even if you don’t have faith that they might work for you it is worth giving them a try but only if you over-pronate. Many running and hiking shops as well as clinics sell them.
For more information you might like to look at a presentation given in June 2011 to the European Chiropractors Conference in Zurich here
Matthew Bennett DC
Sundial chiropractor working with Brighton and Hove Albion and previously with the British Alpine Ski Team.
1.Hossain M, Alexander P, Burls A, Jobanputra P. Foot orthoses for patellofemoral pain in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD008402. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008402.pub2.
2.The Lower Extremity 5(2): 95-102, 1998. Copyright © 1998. Reprinted with permission from Elsevier and the American College of Foot and Ankle Orthopedics and Medicine. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association http://www.japmaonline.org/content/93/4/264.abstract
3. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics Volume 22, Issue 3, March-April 1999, Pages 149-153
4. A comparison of rearfoot motion control and comfort between custom and semicustom foot orthotic devices. Davis IS; Zifchock RA; DeLeo AT. Journal – American Podiatric Ass, Sep 1, 2008; 98(5): 394-403