What is Runner's Knee and How Do I Get Rid of It?

What is Runner's Knee and How Do I Get Rid of It?

Running is a great sport to participate in, however knee injuries are very common in beginners and even elite athletes. Runner’s knee is a very common running injury and if severe enough it can seriously affect your training or keep you sidelined. In this blog post I want to show you what causes runner’s knee and how you can avoid it.

But first, how can you identify if you have Runner’s knee? If you experience any of the following, you may be suffering from it.

  • You feel a dull diffuse pain surrounding the front of your knee, especially when running
  • You experience this pain when sitting too long with your knees bent.
  • You hear a rubbing, clicking, or grinding sound coming from your knee cap whenever you straighten the knee or bend it.
  • Your kneecap is tender to touch.

The 5 causes of runner's knee

1.) Overtraining

Being a runner myself, I certainly can relate to this one. Running is such a great sport because it allows you to be competitive with yourself and you get to see amazing performance improvements over the weeks, month and years of training. Additionally, experiencing the elusive “runner’s high” is a great feeling. The problem with this is, however, is that may runners (including myself in the past) overtrain to achieve their goals. This can lead to the overloading of your tissues, especially your knee joint and cause injury and pain. If you do not allow for enough rest and recovery in between training sessions, it can lead to Runner’s knee. It is also important to know that Runner’s knee does not just occur in runners! This injury can occur in cyclists, weightlifters, soccer players and other athletes.

2.) Imbalances and/or Weaknesses In Your Muscles

When you perform a lower body movement such as a squat, all the muscles in your leg work together in a specific way. When one of these muscles of the lower body is weak or imbalanced it causes other muscles in your leg to work even harder by compensating for it. A particular imbalance that is found in a clinical setting is a weakness of the Gluteus Maximus (buttock) muscle. When this happens, sometimes your quadricep (thigh) muscles will compensate for it. As the quadricep muscle runs over the knee, this can lead to an increase in compression at your kneecap, causing the symptoms of Runner’s knee.  When rehabbing Runner’s knee, imbalances and muscle weakness in the ankles or hips are also commonly assessed. Finally, weakness in the quadriceps is also sometimes seen during Runner’s knee.


3.) Poor movement patterns

Whenever we complete lower body movements such as running or climbing stairs, it is important that we sufficiently control our knee position. Generally speaking, we want our knee to stay above our toe during these movements. If we complete these activities with poor movement control, it can place the knee into a disadvantageous position and cause pain. For example, if we let our knee cave into a “knock-kneed” or valgus position, it can place excess stress on the kneecap and elicit Runner’s knee symptoms. Seeing a physiotherapist will allow your movement patterns to be assessed and corrected, if needed.

4.) Trauma To The Knee

Direct impact to your knee can cause inflammation and pain in and around your kneecap.

5.) Not Warming Up Properly

Warming up is crucial before a workout but so often neglected. Working out without warming up properly first may make you more susceptible to knee problems.

Knee injury courtesy of Delta Physiotherapy & Rehab (Read the caption)

How is runner’s knee treated?

One of the best things you can do is to have a Physiotherapist identify the root causes of your pain and tailor your treatment to address them. Research shows us that conservative physiotherapy management is very effective at reducing Runner’s knee pain and preventing surgery.

Here are some things that might be helpful to treat your runner’s knee in the early stages. Consulting with a physiotherapist will help you determine the most appropriate treatment strategies.

Rest – is one of the most important things you can do. You may need to temporarily avoid your aggravating activities, and then gradually build up to your normal volumes.

Ice –  a good way to ease the pain and swelling is to use an ice pack or even a bag of frozen vegetables for 20 minutes at a time. This can help reduce the swelling and inflammation in your knee. Remember, it is important to use a towel between the ice and your skin when performing this treatment.

Stretching – Many times, tight muscles can contribute to runner’s knee. When tightness happens it can alter the natural movement of your knee and increase stress on the joint. Stretching is a good early treatment strategy as it is low-load and effective at reducing pain. As your pain reduces, however, completing hip and knee strengthening exercises will help you become stronger and allow you to return to your normal activities. 

4 calf raise variations to improve your run courtesy of Elumena Health Clinics

Here are a 3 runner's knee stretches to reduce pain

Quadriceps Stretch

  • Stand up with one hand touching the wall.
  • Next grab your opposite ankle and pull upwards toward your buttocks until you feel a stretch in the front of the thigh.
  • Lastly hold the stretch for 10-15 seconds.

Calf Stretch

  • Place both hands on a wall in front of you and get into a lunging position, eg. feet shoulder width apart, one foot in front the other, about a foot apart.
  • Then lean forward until you feel a nice stretch in your calf region of the rear leg.
  • Hold for 10-15 seconds.

Hamstring Stretch

  • Sit down in a chair and place a massage ball, tennis ball or lacrosse ball underneath your thigh so it is between the chair and your hamstring muscle
  • Press your thigh down into the ball, and keeping your foot pointed downwards, straighten out your knee. You should feel a stretch into the back of your thigh. Make sure your back is straight up when completing
  • You can complete a few repetitions and then re-adjust the position of the ball to release a different part of the hamstring
See below for a video demonstration!
Additionally, while you are recovering from this condition it might be a good idea to wear a runner’s knee brace to aid recovery. 

It can take some time to correct muscle imbalances and movement patterns of your knee so that’s why it may be a good idea to use a knee brace, temporarily. A knee brace can help stabilize your knee when running to prevent re-injury and allow the knee to recover.

To summarize everything in this blog post the most common causes of runner’s are overtraining, muscle imbalances, and poor movement patterns. A Physiotherapist can help with all of these! To find a physiotherapist near you just use the search box on this page and book an appointment.

Watch this demo of Hamstring Exercise courtesy of Strive Health and Performance


This appointment is your opportunity to tell us what hurts and discover whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care is a good fit for you! During this session, you will talk with a physiotherapist or chiropractor on a phone call (or online) and create the right care plan specifically for your pain. There is no obligation on this session is to find out whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care can help you getting back to doing the things you love in life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many times runner’s knee pain will go away with proper rest. However, this only treats the effect and not the initial cause. You may find that after resting, you experience the exact same pain when returning to your activity. If you do not address your unique contributing factors, you are at risk for the pain becoming a recurrent problem.

It’s different for each person but generally it requires 4-8 weeks to fully recover with proper treatment.

Walking may be a good option for you if you are finding your normal activity painful in the early stages of recovery. A physiotherapist can help guide you through appropriate activities throughout your rehab process.

About Taylor Sipos

Taylor is a physiotherapist at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic located in Toronto, Ontario. He treats patients with various musculoskeletal conditions using patient education, exercise therapy, manual therapy and acupuncture. His treatment philosophy involves giving his patient’s the means to self-manage their injuries. He does this through reassurance, education and health promotion. Taylor uses the same principles as a patient educator at Pain Hero. He aims to provide you with high-quality, easy to understand information to teach you about your condition and how to improve it.

Medical Disclaimer:

The information presented in this blog post is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, treatment or a diagnosis, consult with a medical professional such as one suggested on this website. The Clinic Accelerator Inc. and the author of this page are not liable for the associated risks of using or acting upon the information contained in this article.

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