Knee pain while running, also known as runner's knee, is an all-encompassing term for all injuries that occur in one or both of the knees while running. Anyone can have these injuries- regardless of the athlete's expertise or skill level.
These injuries can happen when runners run too hard or push past their capabilities. It is also quite common for beginners to have pain around the knee since their bodies and muscles aren't used to vigorous physical activities.
If you experience any symptoms related to pain while running, then it would be best if you don't ignore the signs or assume that the pain will be brief and go away on its own. Plus, while it is good to stay motivated and not let external factors impede or deter your productivity, you should understand that you must listen to your body and meet its needs before chasing a goal. Only then can you achieve essential body goals without threatening your physical health.
This article details the common causes of knee injuries experienced during this activity; how to spot the symptoms, when to ask for help; use of equipment like knee & back braces for support; and how to get back to running in perfect condition. So, ensure to read to the end if you want to learn about all these.
Causes of Knee Pain While Running
There are various reasons why your knee may hurt while running. They include:
Overuse of the knee
Engaging in other physical exercises that involve using the knee muscles repeatedly can cause pain around the area. High-stress exercises like full-depth lunges, deep squats, and other full-arc knee extensions can irritate the tissues surrounding the knees, causing pain and inflammation.
The more these exercises are done incorrectly, the more strain and injury they cause. Running makes this pain even more prominent.
If you previously had an injury due to an accident, a push, or a fall, you might experience pain during physical activity like running or walking.
If there's an issue with the structure of your bones, you might be more likely to have knee pain. For instance, if any bone in the lower body is not in its proper state, that can exert pressure on some areas like the kneecap, leading to strain in those areas.
Issues with the feet
Many conditions are common to the feet that cause pain in the knee and a change in your gait or walking stance. These include;
- Hypermobile feet: This is a condition where the joints in the foot move more frequently than usual.
- Flat feet: Flat foot is caused when the arches of an individual do not fully develop, causing the whole feet to flatten during exertion of pressure when walking or running. This condition can also be caused by injury or aging.
- Overpronation: This results from behavioral patterns during walking or running such that the feet flatten and cause staring at the surrounding muscles of the feet's arch, which ultimately affects and causes knee pain.
The quadriceps, in front of the thigh, help support the patella during movement, such as bending or stretching. If the quadriceps are weak, these muscles cannot support the patella, causing pain during regular movement.
This condition occurs when the kneecap cartilage wears down, causing it to come into contact with the thigh bone. This condition is associated with extreme pain and swelling.
This is a form of arthritis where the cartilage around a joint wears out slowly and worsens over time to the point where it degenerates. These changes can cause joint stiffness, especially the kneecap, accompanied by pain and swelling.
In the early stages of this disease, symptoms may appear as bouts of sharp pain, which can be exacerbated during physical activity like running.
Also known as shin splints, this pain occurs below the kneecap in front of the lower leg. Shin pain commonly presents as a dull pain that typically occurs during physical activity such as walking or running.
It occurs when athletes overwork their tier muscles and might go away when the exercise is stopped. Acknowledging the pain leads to a more severe injury and sharper pain during exercise.
Muscle strain is a common cause of knee pain for new athletes who aren't used to running exercises. The strain most commonly occurs around the calf and hamstrings.
Symptoms of runner's knee
- Sudden pain in the front, at the back, or around the kneecap
- Pain could range from mild and dull to severe.
- Difficulty moving the affected leg.
- The pain worsens with movement, like walking and running.
- Swelling in the knee
- A grinding feeling due to friction in the knee
Tips for preventing injury
- Practice regular exercise and stretching to prevent weak knees. Before you run, warm up by jogging or stretching to prepare your muscles for exercise. Also, stretch after running.
- Wear the right shoes and use shoe inserts for extra support. If you don't have the correct shoes for running, get one for a reasonable price.
- Avoid running on hard ground.
- Do not do high-intensity exercises if you are not used to them. Instead, start small and increase the intensity slowly.
- Use knee braces to increase support during physical exercise.
- Do not dare push beyond your limits to run long distances if you're a beginner at running.
Diagnosis of Knee Pain
It is essential to visit the doctor's office, especially when the pain is severe or the area around the knee is swollen and impairs movement. Diagnosis is usually made through physical observation and lab tests such as X-rays.
Treatment of Knee Pain
You might often not need to do anything as the pain could go away on its own, but to speed up the healing process, you could try any of the following methods.
When you feel the pain, immediately listen to your body and stop whatever physical activity you might be engaged in. Find a spot to lie down and place the leg in a stretched position.
Wrap ice around a clean cloth and apply it around the affected area to reduce the pain and swelling. Do this for about half an hour and repeat every four hours until you no longer feel the pain. It is particularly effective for muscle strain.
Use knee braces
Knee braces or any other form of support, like a bandage, can help provide support, especially during movement.
Use a pillow
During lying or sitting positions, place your leg under a pillow to keep it elevated as a form of support.
Medications like acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as diclofenac or naproxen can help relieve the pain. Before taking any medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, as some of these drugs tend to cause gastrointestinal bleeding as a side effect.
Let your health practitioner know if you have other underlying conditions, like peptic ulcers.
See a physical therapist
Your health practitioner can refer you to a physical therapist to recommend exercises if the pain results from stiff or weak muscles. The exercises may be stretching, strengthening, or a combination of both.
These support the feet and help when walking.
Note: If you try the techniques above and still feel pain, you may need to see a bone specialist or orthopedic surgeon. Surgical removal of the cartilage may be recommended.
Regaining Motivation when You're Injured
It can be easy to give up after getting injured, especially if you're new to running. Some people may even take it as a sign that running isn't for them. If you have a goal you want to achieve by running, think about that instead of your current situation.
Also, if you run with a group of people, they can help you stay motivated because you have a support group to help you stay on track. Pun intended.
Will You Ever Run Again?
Of course, you will. However, it would be best to ensure you're not rushing things. The anticipation of getting well can make you think you've fully recovered when, in fact, you haven't.
Give it time, get the necessary treatment, and avoid all physical activity until your leg is completely healed. If you're working closely with your physical therapist, do the recommended stretches regularly to ensure you're back on your feet in no time.
How Do You Know You're Fully Recovered?
You're fully recovered if you can do the following:
- Straighten and bend your leg fully without any pain or discomfort.
- Move both legs without any form of support or a staggering gait.
- Walk, jump, or do any other mild physical activity without feeling pain.
If you're still experiencing even the slightest pain, take a break from running and let your body heal.
Running, like any other physical activity, can leave you feeling amazing due to the rush of endorphins. However, knowing when to stop if your body signals that something is wrong is crucial.
Knee pain is the most common complaint that runners have. So, we can safely say it isn’t an abnormality to experience it as a runner. If you notice any symptoms, you can follow the advice in this article, and you'll be ship-shape in no time.
It is also essential to understand that you don't have control over the healing process, so wait it out!