How to prevent knee pain when running: 5 actionable tips

  • Post last modified:September 26, 2021
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Runner’s knee is one of the most common running injuries. While sustained physical activity like running is a cause of the syndrome, there are also individual factors that can predispose individuals to this condition. In this blog, I’d like to share tips on how to prevent knee pain when running. 

Despite having many physical and mental benefits, a 2018 study revealed that there are still high rates of uncertainty amongst the general public regarding the benefits of frequent and long distance running and the safety of running for knee joint health.

The good news for runners is that there is a growing body of research that shows that recreational running is not linked to the development of knee osteoarthritis. Furthermore, a systematic review reported that runners with a history of recreational running were less susceptible to knee osteoarthritis, compared to sedentary individuals. 

Contrary to what many people believe, running itself does not cause knee problems. Instead, it’s the way you run that leads to pain and injury. The truth is, if you learn how to run properly using correct running form, where there is minimal impact or less stress on your joints, you will never have knee problems. 

Here are some tips on how to prevent knee pain when running. After all, prevention is better than the cure! 

Related: How to start running again: 5 tips for returning to running after an injury

prevent knee pain when running

How to prevent knee pain when running: 5 actionable tips

Review your footstrike

Your footstrike is the way your foot hits the ground. You may have heard of a type of footstrike called heel footstrike which happens when you over-stride and you let your foot hit the ground ahead of you, past your knees. 

This is problematic because every time your foot lands on the ground, it sends impact forces to your knees which are acting like shock absorbers. Over time, all of this impact to your knees leads to joint pain and muscle soreness. 

The best way to prevent knee pain when running is to try and avoid heel striking altogether. Instead, adopt a mid-foot strike which is considered to be a happy medium and the most natural of footstrikes. 

Mid-foot strike is characterised by the middle of the foot hitting the ground first. As a result, your weight is distributed evenly throughout the foot and ankle, which reduces the rate at which impact forces travel up the leg. 

Another good tip is to keep your feet aimed in the direction you are running. Twisting your feet to the side every time you take a step forward will create unnecessary tension in your knee. 

Related: Proper running footstrike and ways to improve it

Keep your knees soft and bent

Many runners that over-stride tend to lift their knees out in front of them and then straighten their knees out as they land. This creates a lot of pressure which impacts the heel and knee as they run. 

This sort of running form should only really be used for sprinting over short distances, and not for mid to long runs. 

Keep your knees swinging low and at the end of each stride, bend your knees and let your heels float up behind you. 

Related: 6 strength exercises to help prevent runner’s knee

prevent knee pain when running

Increase your cadence

Linked to footstrike is cadence. Whilst your footstrike is the way your foot hits the ground, your cadence is your stride rate, or in other words the number of steps you take per minute (SPM). 

Like footstrike, cadence plays an important role when it comes to proper running form and can help to prevent knee pain when running.

When you increase your cadence, you will find it’s easier and feels more natural to place your foot underneath you – in your centre of gravity – instead of in front of your hips. 

Next time you’re out for a run, imagine you are running on ice. Take small strides and your stride rate will soon increase. 

Related: 4 ways to improve your running cadence

Strengthen your hips and glutes

Knee pain when running can be caused by problems above and below the knee cap. Weak hips and lazy glutes are common causes of runner’s knee. 

If you have weak hips or weak glutes, this means the knee joint has to cope with a lot more weight and pressure. Over time, this causes the muscles in your knee to malfunction and eventually cause pain. 

There are lots of exercises that you can do regularly as part of your training routine to help prevent runner’s knee. Strength training is a vital part of becoming a stronger and faster runner, and they also help during recovery from a knee injury. 

The following exercises target muscles that help align your hips and knees. You can complete them purely as body weight exercises, or you can add weights or a resistance band to add resistance and make them a bit more challenging. 

  • Clams
  • Hip bridges
  • Donkey kickbacks
  • Straight leg raises
  • Side lying leg raises
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Fire hydrants
  • Low front lunges

Related: 7 of the best glute strengthening exercises for runners

prevent knee pain when running

Stretch

Stretching helps to improve your flexibility and increase your mobility as a runner. It also helps to improve circulation and increase blood flow to your muscles, which help to keep your muscles ready and prepared for your next run. 

Many runners will tell you that running with tight and sore muscles is not fun – that’s why it’s important to have a stretching routine to help reduce muscle soreness after and in between runs. 

Try stretches that target the major muscles in your legs such as your IT band, quads, hamstrings, abductors, glutes and calves. Incorporate them in your warm up using dynamic stretches, or in your cool down using static stretches. 

Related: Morning stretches for runners: 6 simple moves every runner should do

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Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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