What Causes Knee Pain After Running?

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Regardless of your experience level as a runner, you’ve probably encountered knee discomfort at some point. For many people, this pain is manageable and goes away after a few days.

However, the pain can be more persistent for others and even lead to long-term damage, so what can cause this knee pain after running? 

Knee pain after running is caused by various factors such as running too often, wearing the wrong shoes, or running incorrectly. Road running, in particular, can strain a person’s knees, and certain conditions and injuries can arise. You should see a doctor if your knee pain becomes overwhelming.

Knee pain can be debilitating and make it challenging to continue running.

However, treatments available can help alleviate the pain and get you back on track.

Let’s look at the most common causes of knee pain after running and how to prevent and treat them.

Common Causes Of Knee Pain After Running

What causes knee pain after running?

Knee pain is a common problem for runners.

It can be caused by several factors, such as running too often, improper form, an underlying condition or injury, or shoes that don’t fit properly. By understanding what causes knee pain, you can take steps to prevent it from happening in the first place.

If you have knee discomfort after running, you should see a doctor or physical therapist to determine the cause. Once the exact reason has been identified, a treatment plan can be devised to minimize discomfort and enhance your overall function.

If the pain is due to an injury, your doctor may recommend that you rest your knee and ice it for 20 minutes at a time. They may also recommend physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles around the knee. 

If the pain is due to running too often, the doctor may recommend that you take a break from running for a few weeks. They may also recommend using a knee brace or taking anti-inflammatory medication.

Common Knee Conditions From Running

Below are some common knee conditions that many runners develop. Let’s examine each condition and its symptoms.

Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), also known as “runner’s knee,” is a condition that results from the overuse of the patella or kneecap. The patella is a tiny bone that sits at the front of the knee and helps stabilize and protect the joint. PFPS is a common condition that affects runners, cyclists, and other athletes who put repetitive stress on their knees. Symptoms of PFPS include pain around the kneecap, stiffness, and swelling.

Iliotibial Band Syndrome

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is another common cause of knee pain in runners. ITBS is caused by inflammation of the iliotibial band. This thick strip of connective tissue runs outside the thigh from the hip to the shinbone. The iliotibial band stabilizes the knee joint and helps absorb shock during activity. Similar to PFPS, symptoms of ITBS include pain on the outside of the knee, stiffness, and swelling.

Runner’s Knee

Runner’s knee is a catch-all name for any pain or injury around the kneecap area. Runner’s knee can be caused by several conditions, including patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), and arthritis. Symptoms of runner’s knee are the same as PFPS and ITBS and include pain around the kneecap, stiffness, and swelling.

Arthritis

Arthritis is a general term to describe any inflammation or degeneration of joints in the body. There are multiple kinds of arthritis, but osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form that affects runners. OA is caused by wear-and-tear on joints over time, which leads to inflammation, stiffness, and pain.

How To Run With Proper Form?

When running correctly, it’s important to have the following in mind: keep your head up, relax your shoulders, and keep your hands at waist level. Make sure your feet land directly underneath your body and be sure to swing your arms back and forth in a relaxed manner. 

Maintaining a solid and upright posture is one of the most important aspects of proper running form. With these simple tips in mind, you should be able to run with good form in no time and avoid knee pain.

If you’re still having issues, further diagnostics will be required.

Knee Anatomy And Running

Knee pain and knee anatomy

Three bones make up your knee’s joint: your thighbone (femur), shinbone (tibia), and kneecap (patella). These bones’ ends have cartilage coverings, a smooth material that allows the bones to move easily against each other.

The femur and tibia are connected at the knee by four strong ligaments: two cruciate ligaments (anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, and posterior cruciate ligament, or PCL) and two collateral ligaments (medial collateral ligament, or MCL, and lateral collateral ligament, or LCL). These ligaments stabilize the knee joint.

The quadriceps tendon holds the patella in front of the knee, which is a strong band of tissue that attaches the thigh muscles to the kneecap. The patella helps protect the knee joint and gives leverage to the quadriceps muscles when you straighten your leg.

The Tendons And Muscles Supporting Your Knee

The broad muscles at the front of your thigh are called quadriceps. As mentioned, they attach to your kneecap (patella) and help straighten your leg. The broad muscles on the back of your thigh that join to your shinbone (tibia) and enable leg flexion are called hamstrings.

Both muscles work together to stabilize your knee joint while you run. The quadriceps muscle group is significant in keeping your kneecap tracking as it moves up and down over your thigh bone during running strides.

The Ligaments That Stabilize Your Knee

Four primary ligaments stabilize your knee: ACL, PCL, MCL, and LCL. These ligaments stabilize the mobility of this three-boned joint by joining the femur to the tibia.

Your knee’s midsection contains the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). It prevents hyperextension and internal rotation of the thigh that may cause the knee to give out or “buckle.” Additionally, situated in the center of your knee, the PCL protects the femur from slipping backward onto the tibia.

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is located on your inner knee and prevents outward movement. Conversely, the lateral collateral ligament (LCL) is located on the outer knee and prevents inward movement.

Prevention And Treatment Of Knee Pain After Running

You can do a few simple things to help reduce knee pain after running.

Below we’ll briefly cover each of these things.

Warming Up And Cooling Down

It is vital to warm up and cool down properly. Warming up can lower the chance of injury by increasing blood flow to the knee’s surrounding muscles and tendons. Cooling down helps reduce inflammation and soreness.

Stretching And Strengthening Exercises

Exercises for flexibility and strength can also help reduce knee soreness after running. Stretching the muscles and tendons around the knee can help improve flexibility and range of motion. The muscles around the knee can be made stronger to support the joint and lessen tissue stress.

Cross-training

Cross-training is another essential prevention strategy for knee pain after running. This may be extremely beneficial if you’ve experienced problems in the past or are recuperating from a knee injury. Participating in other activities such as cycling or swimming can help reduce stress on your knees while still getting a good workout.

See our guide: the best cardio alternatives to running

Wearing The Right Shoes

Running in comfortable shoes with sufficient support might lessen the likelihood of developing knee discomfort. Too big or too small shoes can disrupt alignment, placing additional strain on the knees. While running on hard surfaces, it’s also crucial to ensure your shoes have enough cushioning to absorb impact and shield your joints from shocks.

Adjusting Your Running Surface

Finally, if you are prone to knee pain after running, you may want to consider running on softer terrain like grass or dirt instead of concrete or asphalt. This can help reduce the impact on your knees and help prevent pain.

Can I Carry On Running If My Knees Hurt?

Your knees may tell you to take a break, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you must stop running altogether. It’s vital to pay attention to your body and give it the rest it needs, but you may be able to still get in some low-impact activity depending on the severity of your knee pain. 

Try cross-training with another activity like swimming or biking, which will be easier on your knees. You might also want to find out with your doctor about possible treatments to help reduce the pain and ensure you are not severely injured.

Is Running Bad For Your Knees?

This is a common question, and there is a lot of misinformation out there. The answer is that it depends. If you have healthy knees and are not prone to injuries, then running is not likely to cause any problems. 

However, running may not be the best activity for you if you have existing knee problems or are prone to injuries. Before starting any new exercise program, it’s a good idea to speak with a doctor or physical therapist.

Our Verdict on Knee Problems For Runners

If you’re a runner, you know that knee pain can be a real problem.

There are several common causes of knee pain after running, including patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band syndrome, runner’s knee, and arthritis. These conditions can be caused by several factors, including anatomy and the type of surface you’re running on.

If you’re suffering from knee pain after running, don’t despair. There are plenty of things you can do to get relief. Try some of the recommendations mentioned and see how they work for you.

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