Are you experiencing knee pain after running? Although there’s a popular myth that running is bad for your knees, it’s just not true. At all.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to experience knee pain after running due to some common training mistakes that result in running injuries.
Our knees bear much of the impact while running, so it’s not surprising that knee injuries account for the bulk of all running injuries.
But don’t worry! In this article, I’m sharing the 7 most common causes of knee pain after running to see what you might be dealing with. And more importantly, 5 ways you can prevent hurting your knees.
What you’ll notice on repeat as running knee pain triggers:
- Weak hips and glutes result in pain
- Increasing mileage or intensity too quickly results in injuries
- Skipping the warm up means skipping a chance to prep your muscles and joints for high impact
With that in mind, let’s dive in!
7 Common Causes of Knee Pain After Running
Knee pain after running can be a result of various conditions. Let’s look at the 7 most common causes of knee pain, along with their causes and how to treat them. Most importantly I want you to know that is IS A PROBLEM To take pain relievers before running. It can cause a host of issues, so you need to find the cause of your pain.
1. Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)
Runner’s knee, also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome or anterior knee syndrome, is a common overuse injury characterized by pain at the front of the knee or even behind the kneecap.
Running downhill, doing squats, climbing up or down stairs, or sitting for extended periods of time might worsen the condition.
What Causes Runners’ Knee?
There are many different causes of runner’s knee, but structural issues in the knee joint are the most common.
Research studies show that it is caused by weak hip and glute muscles, tight hamstrings, a tight Achilles tendon or iliotibial (IT) band, overtraining, inadequate foot support, or incorrect gait patterns.
Another common cause is weakness in the thigh muscles, that is your quadriceps. They keep the kneecap in place and allow it to move easily up and down.
However, if you have quad weakness or a muscle imbalance, your kneecap will slide slightly to the left and right. This movement creates a lot of discomfort due to friction as well as irritation.
How to Treat Runner’s Knee?
I’ve written an in-depth guide on addressing runner’s knee that I highly recommend you check out. You can try to elevate your leg and use a compression knee brace which will help stabilize the area.
Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen to reduce pain and inflammation.
It’s also important to focus on strengthening exercises for your quads to help stabilize the kneecap.
👉Read more about addressing Runner’s Knee >>
2. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS)
The iliotibial band, often known as the IT band, is a band of connective tissue that runs down the outside of your upper leg, linking your hip to your knee.
IT band syndrome occurs when the IT band becomes irritated or tight from overuse, poor running form, or weak hips. The result is pain on the outside of the knee, along the leg, or at the hip.
What Causes IT Band Syndrome?
IT Band syndrome occurs when the IT band gets tight and begins to rub on insertion points creating knee pain. This causes the area on the outside of the knee to become inflamed and irritated, which results in pain.
Overtraining and weak hips/glutes again are a common cause of IT Band syndrome, as well as inadequate warm-ups and cool-downs.
How to Treat IT Band Syndrome?
Stretching and strengthening the core, as well as gradually increasing distance, can help treat and prevent IT band syndrome.
I also recommend checking your shoes to see if they’re worn down, as this can change your gait and cause IT band issues. 👉Download my free IT Band Checklist to get started on recovery today.
👉Learn more about how to prevent IT Band Pain >>
3. Jumper’s Knee (Patellar Tendinitis)
Patellar tendinitis, a common overuse injury, can cause pain from the top of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone. Jumper’s knee is another name for the condition because it is common in sports that involve jumping.
Those who suffer from jumper’s knee have symptoms that include discomfort, pain, tenderness, and maybe swelling close to the patellar tendon, which is located where the kneecap meets the shin.
During the early stages of the condition, you might not notice any symptoms at all until you go for a run. However, when it worsens, you will notice it throughout the day, even when you are not exercising.
What Causes Jumper’s Knee?
Jumper’s knee is most commonly caused by rapidly increasing mileage or intensity of your runs. It can also be caused by weak or tight quadriceps or hamstrings, which can put extra strain on the tendon.
How to Treat Jumper’s Knee?
It’s recommended that you see a doctor for a proper diagnosis because the symptoms of jumper’s knee can be similar to other conditions. If you are diagnosed with patellar tendinitis, you will most likely be recommended to avoid running until the tendonitis heals.
Icing the affected area, elevating your knee, using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and stretching and strengthening exercises may be used to treat the issue.
Quadriceps stretches, for example, are frequently advised, as are calf stretches and hamstring stretches. To relieve stress on the patella, you can also use a patella brace.
Checkout these post run stretches for some key moves >>
4. Meniscus Tear
The meniscus is composed of two wedge-shaped parts of cartilage that serve as shock absorbers between the femur and tibia.
When a runner suddenly changes direction or twists their knee, they can tear their meniscus.
As a runner gets older, their meniscus gets weaker, making them more likely to tear it. In my case, it was jumping on a trampoline!
What Causes Meniscus Tear?
Runners are more likely to injure the medial meniscus, which is located on the inside of the knee, rather than the lateral meniscus, which is located on the outside of the knee.
There are a number of symptoms that indicate that you have a meniscus tear. You may notice overall knee discomfort, swelling throughout the joint, a popping sensation after the injury, knee stiffness after sitting, and trouble bending and straightening the affected leg.
A torn meniscus is typically caused by overuse or sudden movements such as twisting or switching directions.
With a meniscus tear, many people can continue to walk. You might even be able to keep running with a torn meniscus. I found that taping my knee for support allowed me to run pain free, however walking was difficult because I couldn’t fully straighten my leg.
If you suspect a meniscus tear, you should see your doctor to receive a correct diagnosis. They will perform a physical exam and may advise diagnostic imaging, such as an x-ray or an MRI.
How to Treat Meniscus Tear?
Meniscus tears are treated differently depending on their size and location.
Small tears can sometimes heal on their own with adequate self-care. More serious tears may require a meniscectomy or less invasive meniscal repair. The decision on surgery is usually due to the location of the tear. If it has created a flap that is impeding movement, they will want to clear it out.
Luckily it is a relative fast surgery for runners to recover from. Especially if you are diligent with physical therapy and strength training.
Non-surgical treatment for a meniscus tear often consists of anti-inflammatory medication and icing the knee to minimize pain and swelling.
Your primary care physician may suggest that you do some light stretching and strengthening exercises as part of physical therapy during the treatment process as well.
See my meniscus tear knee exercises – what I used to recover and get back to running >>
Checkout this video for knee taping for stability, which can help many of these running knee pains.
5. Knee Bursitis
Knee bursitis can cause pain at the top of your kneecap or on the inside of your knee below the joint.
It is basically inflammation around your knee joint in a bursa, which is a closed, fluid-filled sac that works as a cushion and gliding surface to reduce friction between tissues of the body.
What Causes Knee Bursitis?
For runners, the most common types of Knee Bursitis is Prepatellar bursitis, which is over the kneecap, and Pes Anserine Bursitis, which is on the inner side of the knee.
When a bursa is inflamed, the affected portion of your knee may feel warm, sensitive, and swollen when pressure is applied to it.
You may also experience pain when moving or even at rest. It may even become tough to walk up the stairs.
Because the symptoms of Pes Anserine Bursitis are similar to those of a stress fracture, your healthcare professional will need to examine your knee to accurately diagnose the problem.
How to Treat Knee Bursitis?
Rest, icing, and heat are primarily advised when treating Knee Bursitis. You may also be prescribed anti-inflammatory medication to help ease symptoms.
Many doctors may also recommend physical therapy involving stretching and strengthening exercises to support treatment. It can also help prevent future occurrences of the condition.
Osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in your joints deteriorates over time.
It is the most common kind of arthritis. Some people refer to it as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis or degenerative joint disease. It is most common in the hands, hips, and knees.
Osteoarthritis in the knees will make them feel stiff and even daily life activities may result in pain and discomfort. You may also notice swelling around the knee.
What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of bones in your joints deteriorates over time. This makes them grind together, leading to pain, discomfort and possibly swelling.
How to Treat Osteoarthritis?
Your doctor will help diagnose and provide the treatment and management plan for your OA, depending on its severity.
Although it may be painful to move, keeping the joints flexible and lubricated through activity helps reduce joint discomfort over time.
It’s recommended to avoid sudden movements and hills. Consider running on soft surfaces to reduce joint pain,
Anti-inflammatory meds can also be used to treat pain and swelling but should not be taken for prolonged periods of time. If you require more pain management, you should see a doctor.
Pain can be relieved with treatments such as hyaluronan or cortisone injections. Strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee and the core might also help to relieve joint strain.
👉Read more tips on running with Arthritis >>
7. Baker’s Cyst (Popliteal Synovial Cyst)
Baker’s cyst, also known as a popliteal synovial cyst, results in swelling that happens at the back of the knee. This is actually what we thought I had, when I couldn’t straighten my leg!
If you’re suffering from Baker’s cyst, you may experience pain, but you’re more likely to feel stiffness and tightness at the back of the knee along with a sensation of fullness. You will most likely also feel a bulge in the area.
What Causes Baker’s Cyst?
These cysts can be caused by osteoarthritis or meniscus tears. Baker’s cysts are not specifically associated with running, and runners are not necessarily at a higher risk for the condition.
However, since this condition can occur as a result of others that runners may get, they may experience Baker’s cyst as well, and is an important condition to rule out when dealing with knee pain.
How to Treat Baker’s Cyst?
If you think you may have a Baker’s cyst, contact your doctor for a proper diagnosis and to understand the underlying reason. Some of these cysts resolve on their own, but the underlying cause must be addressed.
Cysts can burst in rare situations, so call your healthcare practitioner if you notice redness or significant swelling in the area.
7 Ways to Prevent Running from Hurting Your Knees
Now that we understand what the common causes of knee pain while running are, let’s look at 5 ways you can prevent hurting your knees.
1. Increase Mileage and Intensity Slowly
A common cause of knee pain is when runners increase their training load, that is their intensity or mileage too quickly. If you finish workouts feeling good, that’s not a bad thing or a sign you need to go harder.
This is where the 10% rule comes in to help prevent training load-related injuries. According to the rule, you should only increase your training by 10% each week compared to the previous week.
This does not take into account that you still need cutback weeks or that 10% more training volume may be too much for an experienced runner or someone returning from injury.
Even though it is just a guide, the 10% rule lets your body recover and adapt to keep up with the demands of your training without getting hurt from overuse.
2. Build Muscle Strength
A great way to prevent knee pain is by strengthening your hips, core and glutes to provide more joint stability. Strength training exercises for runners, reduces the risk of both muscle and joint injuries. Meanwhile it also helps you to run faster, builds your endurance and your metabolism!
So many benefits.
Adding strength training doesn’t have to be overwhelming or hard.
👉Start small with 10 minutes a day of core workout!
👉Build from there with strength training for runners programs.
3. Train with a Running Coach
Running is as easy as heading out and hitting the pavement, but training with a running coach can help you have the proper form to keep your knees healthy for years to come.
If you’re unsure whether or not you’re running with the right form, consider getting a running coach to set you up for running.
4. Wear the Right Shoes While Running
One of the most common causes of injuries among runners is wearing the wrong shoes. Your shoes should be designed for running and should be a good fit for your foot type.
In general, the fit of your running shoes should be slightly different from the fit of your everyday casual shoes.
They should provide enough room for your toes to spread out and grab the ground when you run, and also have enough space for your foot to swell as you keep going.
👉Here’s a complete guide to how to tell if your running shoes fit properly that you can check out.
5. Never Skip the Pre-Run Warm Up
Dynamic warm-ups are worth the time. Warming up correctly before exercise is an effective strategy to avoid muscle-related injury that can lead to knee pain.
The use of a dynamic stretching exercise before running helps your body to move more naturally when you run, and it will prepare your knees for the demands of a run.
It’s also important to not neglect post-run cool downs and stretches to help the muscles recover properly.
6. Work on Your Stride
Don’t overthink your running, but especially if you’re having knee pain while running we want to ensure you aren’t overstriding. Overstriding means that instead of your foot landing under the body, it’s landing in front of you.
This puts a great deal of pressure on all your joints.
You can first work on this by doing running form drills and by working on your cadence.
It’s easier to fix than you think with just a little attention.
7. Spend Time Cross Training
Once we fall in love with running we tend to neglect all other workouts. However, we want to continue working our body in different ways as it ensures we aren’t neglecting any muscles.
Additionally when we are building our mileage and endurance, cross training gives us a chance to build while remaining lower impact. That could mean biking, yoga, aqua jogging or a million other things.
👉Checkout the best cross training for runners >>
8. Have Anti-Inflammatory Foods and Diet
Eating a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains can help reduce knee pain and inflammation.
Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods include blueberries, ginger, turmeric, and leafy greens such as kale and spinach. These foods are packed with antioxidants and other nutrients that help to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
In addition to incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, it’s also important to limit your intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and alcohol. These foods and drinks can increase inflammation and worsen joint pain.
9. Listen to Your Body and Adjust Training Plans
Lastly, listening to your body and knowing when to modify or adjust your training plan is incredibly important. Don’t push your limits too much too quickly because it will only lead to injuries and poor performance.
Take rest when necessary and consult a doctor or physical therapist if you experience any persistent pain or injuries.
Methods for Immediate Relief of Knee Pain
If you’re currently experiencing knee pain after running and looking for ways to get some immediate relief, this is the section for you. I’ve also written an in-depth article about all the knee pain relief methods I’ve tried over the years.
Experiencing knee pain while running can be frustrating and prevent you from enjoying your workout. Fortunately, there are several effective ways to provide immediate relief to your knee. Here are some methods that can help:
Stretching is a great way to relieve tension in the knee joint and reduce pain. You can try simple stretches like the quad stretch, hamstring stretch, and calf stretch. These stretches can help to increase flexibility and reduce stiffness in the knee joint.
Massaging the knee can help to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation in the joint. You can use a foam roller or a massage ball to gently massage the affected area. This can help to relieve tension and promote healing in the knee.
3. Physical Therapy
If you are experiencing chronic knee pain, physical therapy may be a good option for you. A physical therapist can help you to develop a personalized exercise program that can help to strengthen the muscles around the knee joint, reduce pain, and improve flexibility.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. It has been shown to be an effective treatment for knee pain.
Acupuncture can help to reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and improve mobility in the knee joint.
Wearing a knee brace can provide support to the knee joint and help to reduce pain. There are several types of knee braces available, including compression sleeves, hinged braces, and unloader braces. Your doctor can help you to determine which type of brace is best for you.
These are just a few of the many ways to provide immediate relief to your knee after experiencing pain while running. It is important to listen to your body and seek medical attention if your knee pain persists or worsens.
Long-Term Strategies for Managing Knee Pain
You don’t have to live with knee pain, and getting your condition diagnosed and treated will relieve you of the pain you’re currently experiencing. But here are some strategies you can use to manage knee pain better and to help with the symptoms:
Strengthening Exercises for Knee Stability
Physical therapy and appropriate exercises can help improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles that support the knee joint, thereby reducing the risk of pain and injuries.
Strengthening exercises for the core, hips, and quadriceps are essential for maintaining knee endurance. These exercises not only help to reduce the risk of knee pain but also improve overall physical fitness.
For example, exercises such as lunges, squats, and leg presses can help to strengthen the quadriceps muscles. These muscles are essential for knee stability and can help to reduce the risk of injuries.
Plus, exercises such as planks and side planks can help to strengthen the core muscles, which can improve overall balance and reduce the risk of falls.
Flexibility and Stretching Exercises
Stretching exercises help to reduce muscle stiffness and maintain flexibility in the muscles of the leg and knee.
Yoga and post run static stretching can improve knee pain and increase range of motion in the joints. These exercises can also help to reduce stress and tension in the body, which can contribute to overall feelings of well-being.
For example, practicing yoga poses such as downward dog, pigeon, and warrior can help to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the knee joint.
Plus, static stretching exercises such as hamstring stretches and calf stretches can help to improve flexibility in the leg muscles.
Incorporating Low-Impact Cross-Training Activities
Low-impact exercises such as swimming, cycling, and elliptical work great along with running to help you become a better runner.
Including these activities in your workout routine can help reduce the pressure on your knee joint while building endurance. These exercises are also great for cardiovascular health and can help improve your overall physical fitness.
For example, swimming is a great low-impact exercise that can help to improve knee pain and overall physical fitness.
Cycling and using an elliptical machine can also be great options for people with knee pain. These exercises can help to improve endurance and reduce the risk of injuries.
What To Do If You’re Experiencing Knee Pain After Running
If you’re currently experiencing knee pain while running, I recommend backing off training and consulting a doctor as soon as possible.
This will help get you properly diagnosed which will allow you to start getting treatment right away. Your doctor will perform a physical exam on your knee to check the area for redness, tenderness, swelling, and inflammation.
You may also be advised to get diagnostic imaging, such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to rule out other possibilities and/or confirm your diagnosis.
If the pain isn’t sharp, but more nagging you might be able to go directly to a Physical Therapist to get exercises that will help.
Hopefully this gave you some places to start in figuring our your knee pain from running and how to resolve it.
Looking for more training tips?
- How Long Does it Take to Train for a Marathon?
- 5 Knee Strengthening Exercises
- Tips to Improve Running Form
- Should You Run with Sore Legs?
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