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The Most Common Causes of Knee Pain While Running (And What To Do About It)

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Jun 2, 2015 10:00:00 AM

This year, National Running Day will mark its sixth anniversary on June 3rd. Tomorrow, runners of all skill levels will come together to celebrate their love of the sport.


Ideally something as good for your body as running would be pain free, but the reality is that aches and pains are sure to arise at some point. 

Whether you have just started a running regimen or you have been running for a while, you might experience these aches and pains specifically in your knees. Many runners develop knee pain at some point because of all the pounding of the pavement that it takes to run.

Today, we will outline some of the most common knee injuries and let you know what you can do about it.  Injuries can range in severity from a minor ache that quickly goes away to a major problem that require some rest of running or other activities. Determining where you are on this spectrum can be difficult, and a lot of runners and other athletes spend time in the middle of this spectrum: they aren't severely hurt, but they hurt every time the run. The hard part is deciding how to let yourself heal before getting to that major problem area that will force you to take time off from your regular running routine.

Our Orthopedic Specialists are ready to answer any questions you may have about knee pain or injuries related to running.

Runner's Knee

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) is often called runner's knee because it is a very common injury among runners. The stress of running causes irritation on the kneecap which results in knee pain. The pain can be a result of weak leg muscles or just the repetitive motion involved in running. This pain can be constant or come and go, and it can be sharp or dull. 

Runner's knee is common in younger, recreational runners and affects more women than men because of the angle of their hips, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The pain is usually centered behind the kneecap. Steps, going down hills, and uneven running courses can aggravate the pain. 

Prevent Knee Pain

To help prevent runner's knee, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  • Run on softer surfaces like grass or asphalt. Concrete is one of the hardest surfaces to run on, and you should try to avoid it if you can. 
  • Wear the right shoes for your gait. You can visit any running store, and they can help you find out if your shoes are right for you.  
  • Take shorter steps and land with your knee bent. This can take a lot of stress off of you knees according to Brian Heiderscheit Ph.D.; P.T. the director of the University of Wisconsin's Runners' Clinic. 
  • Strengthening your quadriceps and hamstrings may also help prevent this type of injury. Click here to see some exercises that will strengthen the muscles that support the knee.
  • Warm up and cool down each time you run. 
  • If you are new to running, increase your mileage slowly. Knee pain is common in people who try to do too much too soon. 
  • Vary your exercise. If running is the only thing you do, you could develop injury from overuse Try biking or swimming to change things up. These activities are less stressful to the knee and joints. 


If you are already having knee pain, cut back your mileage and take it easy. The sooner you slow down, the faster you will begin healing.  Apply ice to your knee after running to alleviate some pain. You could also take an over the counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen, to reduce the pain. Don't take the pain relievers before running because that could make the problem worse. 

You can also wear a knee brace or use kinesiology tape to support your knee while you recover. Research has shown that taping can be more effective than a knee brace because it's less restrictive. 

Here is an acronym to help you remember some simple at home remedies for knee pain. P-R-I-C-E

  • P - Protect your knee from further injury. Use a brace or tape.
  • R - Rest your knee by taking time off, cross training, or reducing intensity and mileage.
  • I - Ice reduces pain and swelling.
  • C - Compression bandages may help reduce pain and swelling.
  • E - Elevating the knee above the heart can also reduce swelling.

If possible, try to find the cause of the pain. If it's your running motion, work to correct it. If it's your muscle strength, do exercises to get stronger. If you need more supportive shoes, buy some. If you find the root of your problem, you can prevent it from coming back. 

If you knee is swollen or the pain is severe, contact your doctor right away. If you pain persists for a week or more, contact your doctor or reach out to our Sports Medicine team to set up an appointment. 

Johnson Memorial Hospital Outpatient Rehab Center

Topics: Sports, Injury