Knee Pain In Runners: Location, Treatment And Prevention

Knee Pain In Runners: Treatment And Prevention

Runner’s Knee

As the name suggests, runner's knee is a common ailment among runners. But it can also strike any athlete who does activities that require a lot of knee bending -- like walking, biking, and jumping. It usually causes aching pain around the kneecap.

Runner's knee isn't really a condition itself. It's a loose term for several specific disorders with different causes. Runner's knee can result from:

Knee Pain In Runners: Location, Treatment And Prevention


Repeated bending of the knee can irritate the nerves of the kneecap. Overstretched tendons (tendons are the tissues that connect muscles to bones) may also cause the pain of runner's knee.

Direct trauma to the knee

Like a fall or blow.


If any of the bones are slightly out of their correct position -- or misaligned -- physical stress won't be evenly distributed through your body. Certain parts of your body may bear too much weight. This can cause pain and damage to the joints. Sometimes, the kneecap itself is slightly out of position.

Problems with the feet

Runner's knee can result from flat feet, also called fallen arches or overpronation. This is a condition in which the impact of a step causes the arches of your foot to collapse, stretching the muscles and tendons.

Weak thigh muscles

Runner's knee is also called patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Runners knee pain location

Runner’s knee is a type of overuse injury used to describe a number of actual conditions. The clinical diagnoses for runner’s knee may include patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial (IT) band bursitis and patellar tendinitis. Depending on the location of the injury, people may feel pain in the center or top of the kneecap (patellofemoral pain syndrome), on the outside of the knee (IT band bursitis) or when pressing on the patellar tendon (patellar tendinitis).

The pain of runner’s knee can occur during exercise, but often happens later, and is felt when the person climbs stairs or stands after a long period of sitting.

In the case of IT band bursitis, pain often appears on the side of the knee and occurs when the strong band of tissue running down the side of the thigh (called the iliotibial band) rubs over a normal prominence at the end of the femur (the large thigh bone). Meanwhile, patellofemoral pain syndrome is particularly common in women. The natural angle of a woman’s hip to her knee can put her at a higher risk of knee injury. Mix that with tight IT bands or comparatively weaker thigh muscles, and the patella (kneecap) may get pulled slightly off course, creating patellar pain.

What's the Treatment for Runner's Knee? Runners knee pain relief

Regardless of the cause, the good news is that minor to moderate cases of runner's knee should heal on their own given time. To speed the healing you can:

Rest the knee. As much as possible, try to avoid putting weight on your knee.

Ice your knee to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days, or until the pain is gone.

Knee Pain In Runners: Location, Treatment And Prevention
Compress your knee. Use an elastic bandage, straps, or sleeves to give your knee extra support.
Elevate your knee on a pillow when you're sitting or lying down.

Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, 
Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.

Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.

Get arch supports for your shoes. These orthotics -- which can be custom-made or bought off the shelf -- may help with flat feet.

Severe cases of runner's knee may need surgery. A surgeon could take out damaged cartilage or correct the position of the kneecap so that stress will be distributed evenly.

Preventing Knee Pain From Running

Follow The 10% Rule

If you want to up your training for whatever reason, it’s important to do it gradually. A good rule of thumb is the 10% rule where you increase your activity by up to 10% a week, be it the length of time you run for or distance. For example, if you normally run 5 miles at a time, increase to up to 5.5 miles. After at least a week you can then increase by another 10%.

You may find that a 10% increase is too much especially if you are just starting out or are returning to activity after an injury, in which case you might want to work at 5% increases instead. Listen to your body and do what is right for you and you shouldn’t suffer from running knee pain. The 10% rule is a guide, not a mantra!

Warm Up & Cool Down

Before and after exercise, make sure you are warming up and cooling down properly. A mixture of stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular exercise really helps to reduce knee pain from running.  It can seem tedious but it does make a difference.

Use Good Footwear

Having the right support for your feet helps reduce biomechanical problems which in turn reduces the risk of running knee pain. Remember, everyone’s feet are different so try out lots of pairs of shoes and talk to a footwear expert to make sure the shoes you use have the right support in the right places for you.

Also, remember to change your shoes regularly. Over time, shoes stop providing good support and start to lose their shock absorbing properties. The general advice is to change your shoes after approx 400-500 miles eg if you run 5 miles a day, 5 times a week, you should change your shoes every 3-4 months to prevent knee pain from running.

It can also help to have a couple of pairs of running shoes and alternate them.

Avoid Overtraining

This is a particularly common cause of knee pain from running when training for an event/competition. Overtraining is when you exercise beyond your body’s ability to recover. Our bodies need adequate rest and recovery time when we exercise, otherwise performance levels start to decrease.

Warning signs that you might be overtraining include fatigue, mood changes eg irritability and depression, decreased appetite, lack of enthusiasm for exercise, headaches, general aches and pains, drop in performance and insomnia.

Wear a Knee Support

Ideally, if you have nice strong, flexible muscles, you shouldn’t need to wear a knee support when you run. But if you are getting knee pain from running, you might find a brace really helpful. If you do feel the need to wear one, I would recommend wearing one that has a hole at the front for the kneecap, as it provides support without putting pressure through the patella. Visit the knee brace section for help finding the right brace for you.

Vary Your Exercise

Running is a great way to keep fit, but if running is the only exercise you do, you are missing out. Ideally, you should do different types of exercise to work different muscle groups in different ways. By doing a range of exercises, you will develop great overall strength (in your muscles, bones and cardiovascular system), flexibility, power, endurance, fitness, balance and co-ordination, as well as losing weight! Good things to do as well as running include swimming, cycling, rowing, ball sports and strength training.

Use Ice

When used correctly, ice packs can help to reduce inflammation and knee pain from running. Visit the ice therapy section to find out how to use it safely and effectively and the ice wraps section for the best ways to apply ice.