PhD candidate on pace to safely train female athletes experiencing "runner's knee"

Patellofemoral pain, also known as “runner’s knee,” is one of the most common injuries a female runner can experience. Due to this condition, runners encounter pain around the knee joint, as well as quadriceps and hip weakness, preventing high workload training and impacting day-to-day activities.

Lauren Erickson, PT, DPT, SCS, CSCS, a doctoral candidate in the rehabilitation sciences program, received funding from the American College of Sports Medicine Foundation for a new study to evaluate alternative treatments to improve muscular strength and running biomechanics in females with patellofemoral pain.

Erickson's project titled “Effect of Blood Flow Restriction Training on Functional and Self-Reported Outcomes in Runners with Patellofemoral Pain” hopes to find a safe and effective treatment through blood flow restriction training (BRFT) for female runners aged 18-50. 

“Being a runner myself, I have seen a lot of injuries throughout my career training competitively and as a physical therapist,” Erickson said. “Running is my passion and I want to help other runners who may struggle with running-related injuries.”

Erickson plans to use BFRT for her study, which involves placing a pressurized cuff around the runner’s upper thigh that will restrict blood flow to the muscles during exercise. By limiting the blood flow, it allows runners to safely receive the same muscular strength benefits while exercising at lower workloads rather than high, strenuous loads that can result in pain and joint discomfort. 

Patellofemoral pain occurs twice as often in female runners than in male runners. Erickson believes this form of strength training serves as a unique, safe, and effective window of opportunity to help in areas where physical therapy has not been able to intervene before.

“You can always push people further, but then you’re at risk of increasing joint pain or stress,” she said. “We’re hoping to help runners progress in a healthy manner.”

It’s common for runners to fear increasing mileage and workload after an injury. Erickson says she is focusing on patient-reported outcomes in addition to muscle strength and running biomechanics.

“It’s great if their strength and running biomechanics improve, but what it ultimately comes down to for the runner is improving their overall running ability and how they feel when they’re running,” she continued. “Through this study, I hope to help runners return to running pain-free and to feel more confident in their ability to train.”

Erickson says she will begin actively recruiting female runners for the study after the state of Kentucky lifts COVID-19 restrictions. The project will be ongoing throughout 2021.