How to Prevent Knee Pain While Running   

How to Prevent Knee Pain While Running

July 29, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Alexander Russoniello, M.D.

During the pandemic, many people who enjoy working up a sweat have gravitated toward running, because they can exercise while safely spending time outdoors. Since running is a higher-impact form of exercise than walking, there’s a greater chance of developing knee pain. Fortunately, you can take steps to lower your risk of developing knee pain while you run.

To ward off running-related knee pain or minimize discomfort when it strikes, try these ideas:

  • Stretch before your runs. When you stretch your quadriceps (quads), hamstrings and calf muscles before running, it helps to strengthen the muscles in your legs, which takes some pressure off of your knees. For best results, hold your stretches for about 30 seconds, rather than going through the motions more quickly.
  • Strengthen your leg muscles. Building up your quads and hamstrings helps to support your knees and may help to lower your risk of knee pain. Incorporate squats, lunges and more into your daily warmup, and you may notice a difference.
  • Walk, bike or swim on alternate days. When you cross-train, you use your joints and muscles differently, which gives your body a break from the daily rigors of running. Consider running every other day, mixing it up with other forms of heart-pumping exercise in between.
  • Build up your mileage gradually. Increase your time and/or distance a bit at a time, rather than striving to add miles onto each run. If you push yourself too far, you may overdo it and hurt yourself.
  • Ice your knees after runs. The cold should help to reduce any pain, swelling and inflammation that you may experience. Wrap your ice pack in a paper towel or thin cloth so that the ice doesn’t make direct contact with your skin, and remove it after 15 or 20 minutes. You can reapply the ice periodically, once your skin has warmed up again.
  • Use anti-inflammatory medication as needed. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, providing much-needed relief. Taking medication for up to a week may help your knees feel better.
  • Consider taking certain dietary supplements. The supplements glucosamine and chondroitin may ease knee pain. They may also help to increase the amount of cartilage in the knees, although more research is needed. The supplements aren’t associated with serious side effects, so they may be worth trying.

If you notice knee pain develop, take a break from running for a few days to allow yourself to heal. Within a week, if things don’t improve, make an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause of your knee pain.

“Sometimes, knee pain may be a sign of inflammation, which may resolve on its own or with the help of physical therapy, but other times, you may have structural damage – a tear, arthritis or another problem which may require a higher level of medical intervention, including surgery,” says Alexander P. Russoniello, M.D., a hip and knee orthopedic surgery specialist at JFK University Medical Center. “A trained orthopedic surgeon can determine the cause of your knee pain and offer you a plan of action to get you running again.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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