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Why do my knees hurt when I run?

According to physiotherapists, running injuries are most common in the knee area. The knee has a very simple anatomy: it is a simple hinge joint that moves back and forth. For a knee to function well, it needs support from the muscles and ligaments around it to maintain the position and direction in which it was designed to move. Problems arise when this support system becomes unbalanced. When the muscles on either side of the knee are not equally strong, forces in the knee joint increase pressure on one side and decrease it on the other. 

In short, imbalance usually causes knee pain.

A common cause of knee injuries is overuse or repetitive strain on the affected muscle. Repetitive exercise injuries either damage the muscle tissue itself, or repeatedly drag the tendon at its attachment to the bone, causing pain and inflammation.

Workouts that are clearly beyond their ability, whether in terms of volume or intensity, make runners significantly more prone to overuse injuries. Worse, these injuries cause muscle weakness and instability, which greatly increases the likelihood of ligament and bone injuries.

Most Common Injuries Causing Knee Pain When Running

Most knee injuries while running are the result of increasing mileage or pace too quickly. If you experience knee pain while running, stop exercising, put ice on it, and see a doctor. Knee injuries account for up to 50% of all running injuries.

Runner's knee

Runner's knee is the main cause of knee pain in runners. Pain occurs in the patella area during activity or after prolonged sitting with bent knees. As you run, the knee, femur, and tibia move and put pressure on the patella. If the kneecap is overstressed, the tissues can become inflamed and irritated. It can also be caused by tight muscles, poor running form, or structural problems such as an unusually high kneecap.


Stop running, put on ice, and take pain reliever until the pain is gone and you are ready to run again. Strengthening the knees, hips, feet, and ankles can also help treat and prevent a runner's knee. Talk to a physical therapist to find the right treatment plan for you. If pain persists after three to four weeks, you should see your doctor.

IlioTibial (IT) band syndrome 

IlioTibial (IT) band syndrome is another common running injury, especially among long distance runners. Pain occurs on the outside of the knee and is usually due to overuse and tightness of the IlioTibial ligament. Runners are prone to pinching the IT band as they often move back and forth, causing friction, inflammation, and pain at the intersection of the IT band with the knee.


Stop running, try some foam rollers and strengthen your core and hips. You can apply ice to the outside of your knee or take pain medication. IT band syndrome usually resolves within a few weeks. However, if the pain persists, see your doctor as IT band syndrome can sometimes become chronic and may require a month or two of rehabilitation.

Meniscus tear

A meniscus tear is damage to the cartilage located between the tibia and femur. Each of our knees has two menisci - one on the inside of the knee and the other on the outside of the knee. A torn meniscus causes pain and inflammation in the knee area, which can make it difficult to fully straighten the joint. Meniscus tears are usually caused by repeated use of the meniscus or by activities involving twisting, such as if you suddenly stop or change direction quickly while running.


Stop walking for a short time while the wound has healed. In milder cases, rest, ice, and medication can help relieve symptoms so that you can walk safely again even if they don't heal on their own. In extreme cases, if symptoms persist, surgery may be required.

Patellar tendinitis

Jumper's knee (Patellar tendinitis) is another common injury while running. This causes pain below the knee in the patellar tendon, which connects the patella and lower leg. This tendon allows the knee to be fully extended. It is caused by overuse or sudden increases in distance or running frequency. This puts additional stress on the patellar tendon, causing tiny tears that lead to pain and inflammation. Tight quads or hamstrings can also put additional stress on the patellar tendon.


The best way to cure patellar tendonitis is to take a break, ice the affected area, and strengthen and stretch the hamstrings. Flexibility and strengthening exercises can also stimulate tissue healing. It is also helpful to wear a kneecap brace to relieve stress on the tendons.


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