Fitness Tips

How to Keep Runner’s Knee From Cramping Your Stride

Photo: Getty Images/Leonardo Patrizi
Adding running to your wellness résumé can result in plenty of health perks. Not only does hitting the pavement play a role in lowering the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia, but it also releases neurochemicals in your brain that boost your mood and increase your self-confidence, among other things. Unfortunately, sometimes all that running can come at a cost and cause your knees to hurt. Knee pain while running can occur due to factors such as improper technique, tight muscles, not warming up properly, and even wearing the wrong shoes. Good news, though: The pain doesn't have to keep you from lacing up those sneakers for good.

Why you may be experiencing knee pain from running

Runner's knee—or, in more scientific terms, chondromalacia patella—occurs when the cartilage under the kneecap is damaged. It's one of the most common injuries runners face due to that cartilage being a natural shock absorber, and according to Becs Gentry, a Peloton Tread instructor, and Nike Run ambassador, there are a few different reasons those symptoms—aka kneecap pain, swelling, or feelings of popping or grinding—ever even surface in the first place.

You're going too hard, too soon

As exciting as it can be to start a new training program or modality, you should always scale back to begin with in order to give your body time to get acclimated to your training. "You might experience runner's knee from increasing your mileage too soon, since going from zero miles to countless miles in a short time span can cause pain and aggravation to the body," says Gentry.

To circumvent this, start off modest. And if you aren't sure what that looks like, consider enlisting the help of a professional run coach or using an app that has running plans such as the Nike Run Club app.

Your technique needs improvement

Another reason you may be experiencing knee pain while running is poor technique, says Gentry. It happens to the best of us, especially as we fatigue, but it's definitely something you should be actively thinking about on your runs.

Make sure that your hips aren't shifted backward, your head is in a neutral position, your shoulders are relaxed, your chest is open, and that you're swinging your arms forward and backward. You'll also want to avoid butt-kicking as this can cause unnecessary stress on muscle groups like your hamstrings, which as a result can pull on other muscles and aggravate your knees. Additionally, you should try to strike the ground with your mid-foot, and making sure that you're not running with your knees locked out.

Other common causes of knee pain while running

Other common knee-pain-causing issues Gentry sees come from eating a poor diet that builds up toxins and can contribute to inflammation, wearing shoes that don't provide enough support, and not having enough recovery time. "It's important to allow the body to rest, adapt, and recover prior to the next run," she says. "Massage and Epsom salt baths are something I always suggest when runners have muscular soreness, as they can both help reduce the recovery time and soothe the body."

As far as footwear goes, make sure that you're wearing a shoe that was created for your foot type in addition to replacing your shoes about every six months (or sooner depending on how much mileage you do).

While getting rid of the pain is great, there are also some ways to prevent your knees from hurting in the first place. Before your next run, use Gentry's top tips to ensure your sweat seshes are no pain, all gain.

4 ways to prevent running from hurting your knees

1. Train with a running coach

People think running is one of those things you just go out and do, but learning how to run correctly from the get-go can help keep your knees healthy for years to come. "If you're unsure about correct running technique, find a coach who can help you analyze your running style and work with you to make it stronger," Gentry says.

2. Invest in a good pair of running shoes and socks

You wouldn't show up to swim practice without a quality bathing suit, right? Well, the same goes for running: You need trustworthy gear to get the job done. "The technology in sneakers today is very advanced, and most running shoes are designed to assist the human body, so it’s a great idea to head to a running store for a gait analysis," says Gentry. "In most cases, they'll be able to show you shoes that suit your natural running style. Definitely remember to wear shoes that are comfortable, though."

3. Keep a training diary

To make sure you're not overdoing things—especially at the beginning of your running journey—take the time to keep track of your sessions. "Starting a training diary will help you clearly see and outline which days you dedicate to running, training, and to recovery," Gentry says. "This way, you'll be able to balance yourself out and not do too much, too soon."

4. Build your muscle strength

Adding some strength training into the mix as well can do wonders for protecting your body—and turning you into a better runner. "Building your muscular strength is so important. Around every joint, there are muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Runners need to ensure that their whole body is looked after and strengthened for running, given the impact it has on the body," Gentry says. "Using bodyweight or weighted exercises and focusing on single-leg strength—as well as double-leg strength—will help build your power and hopefully keep injuries at bay."

We know running with knee pain isn't ideal, but if you make sure you're wearing the right gear, you're focusing on your form and getting in cross-training sessions (strength training is your BFF), recovering, and eating foods to fuel you, it should be gone in no time! And never underestimate the power of ice cup massages and Epsom salt baths.

Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.

Loading More Posts...