Knee pain while running can quickly turn an enjoyable workout into a painful chore.
Knee pain is one of the most common injury complaints of runners, and can derail training programs for weeks and sometimes even months.
But not all knee pains are the same, as there are multiple causes, symptoms, and treatments that go with each of these.
Check out the injuries below to see which type of knee injury may pertain to you; what you can do to avoid it; and how best to treat it.
As with any injury, consult a medical professional for treatment and advice as they can better ascertain your exact injury and the best treatment alternative.
The knee is one of the most complex joints in our body.
It’s the juncture where four bones come together (femur, tibia, fibula, and patella.
It’s supported by a cast of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage, and it is the location where out Iliotibial Band (“IT band”) connects our lower leg to our pelvis at a point just below the knee.
So suffice to say that knee injuries from running could come from a variety of sources.
Here are just a few causes of knee pain for runners:
Knee Pain While Running – Runner’s Knee
Runner’s Knee is the more popular term that refers to Chondromalacia of the knee cap (patella). This can be caused when there’s an imbalance of the muscles or overpronation. Symptoms include a pain around the knee, and frequent “pop” or “crack” noises as the knee cap seems to be almost off track. This also may be accompanied by swelling and inflammation around the knee cap as the cartilage becomes soft, and irritated, leading to potential deterioration.
Some ways to counteract this condition are strength training exercise that build the hamstring, quadriceps, thigh and calve muscles. If overpronation is deemed a possible cause, then orthotics or shoes that promote better running mechanics may help alleviate this injury.
Knee Pain While Running – Patella Tendonitis
The knee cap (patella) connects to our lower leg by the patellar tendon. Overuse and stress of this tendon can lead to inflammation and eventually tendonitis. This injury will cause pain and stiffness below the knee cap and may exhibit some mild swelling. I had this injury during my senior year of high school cross country, and thankfully was able to treat this with a few weeks of rest and leg strengthening exercises. As with most injuries, the R.I.C.E. acronym is a good precautionary first measure: Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation. No one likes to take days off…especially runners…but rest is usually part of almost all successful treatment solutions.
Knee Pain While Running – Meniscus Degradation
Our knee joints have crescent-shaped cartilage shock absorbers for our knee cap that form our meniscus. This cushion can become torn from excessive wear or twisting movements of the knee. Minor strains and tears will likely be prescribed the R.I.C.E. treatment, while more serious injuries may require arthroscopic surgery. Pay attention to warning signs…and when in doubt…take a rest day and consult a sports medicine physician if the knee pain while running is severe.
Knee Pain When Running – Iliotibial Band Syndrome
If your knee pain while running is on the outside of your knee, you may be suffering from IT band syndrome. This can occur when the IT band, which stretches from our pelvis down to our lower knee, becomes too taught. Ways to prevent this injury are running on flat surfaces; gradually increasing mileage; and stretching to increase flexibility. All of these measures can help reduce the stress on the IT band and may reduce the pain and chances of future injury.
As with any of our body’s warning signs, knee pain could be an indicator of a problem that requires immediate medical attention. Be your own best judge, and when in doubt take some time off and rest your legs. If you feel minor pains like those described above, it’s probably worth your while to try a chance of pace, new running shoe inserts, or some added leg strengthening and flexibility exercises. I hope that you’re able to avoid knee injuries for many happy years of running to come…best of luck!