Runner's Knee Pain Exercises, Treatment & More
What Is Runners’ Knee?
Knee pain from running is so common of an occurrence that the term “runner’s knee” has become a commonplace way of describing a number of conditions that cause knee pain, and often pain around the front of the knee (AKA, patellofemoral pain). Frequently, runner knee refers to patellofemoral pain syndrome where the back of the kneecap comes in contact with the thigh bone, causing inside knee pain with running. But this term can apply to a number of running-related injuries.
The good news is there are a number of non-surgical ways to treat runner’s knee pain.
What Causes Knee Pain When Running?
There are a variety of knee injuries from running or conditions that may make the knee hurt after running or during the act. When and where such pain develops can be telling as to what is causing knee running pain.
Alignment issues can be either a direct or indirect cause of knee pain and running. Flat feet or overpronated feet (excessive inward rolling of the foot) can lead to knee pain while running or after running as this causes alignment issues with the kneecap. (Check out our arch support inserts.) Similarly, unbalanced, tight or weak leg muscles may cause alignment troubles and result in running knee pain.
Such problems can also increase one’s risk of a subluxated or a complete or partial kneecap dislocation, which can cause substantial runners knee pain.
Major increases in distance or pace can cause knee pain after running or during running. Overdoing it can strain or irritate the soft tissues of the legs and knee, causing knee pain after running or while one is running. Not surprisingly, new runners often experience knee pain.
It is important not to ignore runners’ knee symptoms such as pain, swelling, stiffness, etc. If the knee hurts when running or after, this is the body’s warning signal that something is wrong. Ignoring a sore knee from running or running through knee pain is a sure way to do further damage and possibly cause permanent running knee problems, like arthritis. Many medical professionals recommend avoiding running with knee arthritis.
Runner’s Knee Symptoms
Symptoms of runners’ knee vary depending on the injury and the person. If one is experiencing pain below the knee cap after running he or she might be experiencing patellar knee tendonitis from running. At its onset, patellar tendonitis pain may only be present at the beginning of one’s workout or one may experience pain in the knee after running. Ignoring this discomfort may lead to near constant pain in the knee from running.
Damage to the cartilage below the kneecap is another possible knee injury from running that causes anterior knee pain. When this occurs, it is known as either patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) or chondromalacia. This condition causes knee pain around the kneecap and/or pain behind the kneecap. Heightened knee pain when running downhill, climbing stairs, squatting or sitting for an extended period may be signs one’s kneecap cartilage is breaking down or has eroded.
Outer knee pain when running (lateral knee pain) may indicate one’s iliotibial (IT) band at the outer part of the knee is irritated, especially if one is a long-distance runner. IT band syndrome (ITBS) is often a source of knee and hip pain from running long distances.
Sharp pain in the knee when running may be a sign of a meniscus tear. Whether one has experienced a medial or a lateral meniscus tear will determine if the individual experiences inner knee pain with running or outside knee pain when running, respectively.
Soft tissue injuries are the most common reasons for back of knee pain from running (posterior knee pain), though injuries to the popliteal muscle that is important to running downhill can also cause posterior knee pain with running. If one steps in a pothole or loses one’s balance on an uneven surface, twisting the knee, one might tear a ligament such as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that stabilizes the knee. An ACL tear typically causes intense pain behind the knee or at the outside of the knee and swelling, instability and limited movement.
Regardless of what one thinks may be the culprit for knee problems linked to running, he or she should always seek a professional diagnosis regarding what exactly is causing the sore knee after running and how to cure runners’ knee. Runners’ knee recovery time will depend upon the knee problem and its severity as well as the patient’s age, health, etc.
How to Fix Runners’ Knee
Running and knee pain do not have to be permanently linked; there are a number of steps one can take to alleviate runner knee pain. However, just what helps will vary depending on runners’ knee causes and the person. The following are some general guidelines when it comes to how to heal runners’ knee. However, this is in no way intended as a substitute for professional advice.
Resting the knee and giving it a chance to heal are some of the first steps for runners’ knee recovery. Protecting the vulnerable knee is another priority when it comes to knee problems from running.
Knee pads for running may be a good option for some, especially those involved in contact sports.
Some knee sleeves for running can also help with patellar tracking, similar to athletic bandages or kinesio tape (kt tape) for runners’ knee. Such knee orthotics for runners’ knee are much simpler to apply than learning how to tape a knee for running.
Besides rest, healing runners’ knee may well involve elevating and icing the knee as well as applying compression. These steps can help bring down knee swelling after running. The latter also promotes blood flow and healing. A knee sleeve for running will apply beneficial compression. Some choose to wear such products as a way of preventing runners’ knee.
Another way to cure runners’ knee is to engage in runners’ knee exercises to strengthen the muscles of the leg so that less stress is put on the kneecap. Knee strengthening exercises for runners can also help correct muscle imbalances or tracking problems that may be causes of knee pain in runners. Tight muscles can also cause a sore or stiff knee after running. Stretches for runners’ knee can help. Indeed, warming up properly and engaging in knee stretches for runners can help prevent an injury from occurring in the first place.
Cylinders of foam known as foam rollers can also help relieve knee pain. Foam rollers help runners knee as “rolling” the muscles that attach to the knees can help maintain flexibility and alignment of the joint. Find more foam roller exercises for the knee here.
Another good practice is to make sure to wear proper running shoes for knee pain. With today’s wide selection, one can even undergo tests to make sure one gets the best running shoes for one’s knee pain. The best running shoes for runners’ knee will support the foot, including the arch. For some, simply switching shoes is sufficient as a runners knee cure.
For more serious injuries like a ligament tear, extensive runners knee rehab including time with a physical therapist may be needed and possibly surgery to relieve knee pain from running. As one gets back to running, he or she may need a functional post-op knee brace for added protection and support for running after knee surgery.
Preventing Runners’ Knee
Warming up is an important component of a workout if one wants to avoid knee soreness after running. Improving the strength and flexibility of one’s leg muscle is another important step for avoiding pain in the knee when running in the first place.
It is important for runners to gradually increase mileage to prevent knee pain while running. Runner’s World recommends stepping up one’s mileage less than 10% per week. Knee pain after running long distances that the body is not used to is not surprising.
Another key when it comes to avoiding knee problems for runners is to wear proper gear. Most important is getting the best running shoes for one’s knee problems, meaning ones that are well suited for one’s arches and gait.
Being overweight or obese can take a major toll on one’s knees. For that reason, it is important to maintain or get to a healthy weight if one wishes to avoid running with knee pain. Long-term damage to the knee can cause arthritis or possibly even lead to knee replacement surgery. Medical professionals generally advise against high impact activities like running after knee replacement surgery.
And finally, using proper running form and being selective about one’s terrain is also important for avoiding knee pain with running. Running straight down a steep hill or on uneven ground increases one’s risk of knee pains from running.