Skip to main content
« Are Orthotics Worth It What is IT Band Syndrome and how and your treat it? »

Common causes of knee pain in runners

We're going to look a little bit today about what is runner's knee. Commonly, this is when you're getting pain at the front of your knee when you're running.

The good news is that you tend to find that it's not actually a structural problem. It means that the ligaments and the cartilage are actually all in good working shape and order. The problem is more muscular, and when you're getting those imbalances forming, what tends to happen is that it's moving and shifting the patella (kneecap) out of position. That means it's not running nicely into the femoral groove. As you're extending or flexing your knee, the kneecap is moving side to side and not moving nicely up and down. The rubbing of your knee cap onto the bones, is causing the pain at the joint. That's commonly what runner's knee is.

You can still get knee pain that's cartilage or ligament based, and that's where it can be a little bit more serious because they're harder to repair, because of the lack of blood supply to them. If you've got a damaged cartilage, you're usually looking onto a more surgical repair route for it, because your cartilage is there to act as a joint lubricant or a shock absorber. If that's not there, you're just getting the bone again rubbing on the bone, but there's nothing to then stop that position happening. If you've damaged your ligaments, they've torn or might've just stretched and pulled them, again, you're needing to rehab those to get the strength back in them. That's then a longer process because they haven't got the blood supply going to them as if it was a muscle imbalance and problem, which you are able to change through different exercises.

The different causes, with runner's knee might be if you've increased the distance that you're running, you're increasing your pace, you've changed the surface that you could be running on, you might have had a sudden injury or a twist. But a lot tends to come from the lack of strength and conditioning that you've gone into. Runners I tend to find do a lot of running, and then neglect part of their strength and conditioning or their cross training elements. Whether that's doing some yoga and Pilates, or going into the gym and doing a training program with weights, whether that's dumbbells or barbells and body weight to strengthen the muscles around your knee.

When you're wanting to strengthen your knee, you're looking at increasing the strength within your quad, so the front of your thigh, your hamstrings, your abductors, and particularly your glutes. Again, a lot of runners you tend to find to have weak glutes, and that's what causes a lot of the problems. If they're not doing what they're meant to be doing, that can then form a little bit of tightness, which leads to then you pulling on your knee. Some good exercises to look at for strengthening your legs are doing some hip hitches, look at doing some hip and knee flexion with some resistance bands, and some glute bridges, squats and deadlifts.

Something also to consider is within your stretching, look at using a foam roller and your trigger point ball, particularly on your quads, your hamstrings and in your glutes. You not only have then worked your muscles and got them stronger, you're then also needing to make sure you're keeping your flexibility and your mobility of those muscles going as well. All of that is going to help the muscle balance of your legs, which will again help make sure that your kneecap is doing the job that it's meant to do as you're flexing and extending your leg, so it's not then rubbing on any of the other joint.

Some things to consider, though, if you're in constant pain or you're seeing that your knee is swelling up and it's not going down, think about going to your GP and seeing if there's anything else going on in there that you don't know about, if you've then been doing that strengthening program for a while and not noticed any differences.

Sports massage is always going to help, again, release any of the tight muscles that are going on and can help identify where some weaknesses might be. You can then also look down the route of taping and having your knee supported as you're running whilst not restricting it, and also think about having some orthotics, because again, your foot position is also going to affect what's happening with your knee.