- Knee pain when running is incredibly common, especially in newbies.
- It’s not something to push through, and doesn’t mean running isn’t for you.
- Checking your running style, strengthening your muscles, and wearing the right footwear will help.
- Read more Working It Out here.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Over the past couple months, I’ve started to get into running (I’m loosely following the Couch to 5K app) for the first time. The trouble is, as the weeks have gone on, I’ve started to feel pain in my knees. It often begins about 20 minutes into a run and I usually end up stopping as a result, but now I don’t know what to do as I want to start running for longer.
Is there something I’m doing wrong? I don’t want to buy new running shoes if the problem is actually something else like my running style. Please help!
– Dejected Jogger
I’m going to level with you from the off: I am not a runner. But one of the main reasons for this is because when I did once start to dabble in jogging many moons ago, I encountered a very similar problem to you.
Pain around the joints is incredibly common, and it’s something a lot of runners simply push through. This, however, is not wise.
I consulted two experts in this area who explained what you can do to keep hitting the pavements while looking after your body.
The first thing to know is there could be myriad reasons behind your pain – unhelpful, I know. But the good news is there are also lots of possible solutions to try.
Look at your running style
Unlike with weight-lifting or pilates, few of us are ever actually taught the correct technique for running. This can lead to problems.
“Knees can take an increased stress if our cadence when running is too low,” Emma Kirk Odunubi, strength and conditioning trainer, running coach, sport scientist, and gait analyst told Insider.
Cadence means the number of steps you take per minute, and Odunubi says the ideal number for most runners is around 170-180 beats per minute. The lower the cadence, the more time you’re spending on the ground with every step you take, which means a greater force is exerted on the lower leg, including the knees.
“Another running style issue that could be occurring could be over-stride,” Odunubi said. “That is, taking a step too far in front of your body. Try to think about landing underneath your body with every step and creating a ‘long’ stride by pushing the ground away from you behind, rather than in front.”
Strengthen the muscles which will support you
Many people don’t realize that resistance-training and strengthening the muscles that support your joints is hugely important for runners.
Luke Worthington, a strength and conditioning coach who has also trained multiple marathon runners, ranging from international athletes to first-timers, told Insider that knee problems are one of the most common complaints he hears from new runners.
“Whilst I’m a big advocate of running as a very accessible (and cheap) form of exercise, we do need to be sure to train our bodies to be strong and resilient enough to cope with the demands running places upon them – especially as we start to increase mileage,” he said.
The knee, Worthington said, is actually a very simple hinge joint that can either flex or extend (ie. bend or straighten).
“Knees are beholden to what motion at the hip drives them to do, and what mobility at the ankle permits them to do, and so when we experience discomfort at the knee, we need to look both above it and below it to understand where it is coming from,” he said.
3 common problems and 3 exercises to help
Worthington talked Insider through three of the most common causes of knee pain in runners, and an exercise for each you can do at home to remedy the issue.
1. Lack of strength at the hip joint, particularly in the glutes
“This means that the knee joint is taking more than its share of the force every time a runner takes off and lands,” Worthington said.
Suggested home exercise: single leg hip thrust
2. Lack of strength in the hamstrings relative to the quadriceps
“We should always consider strength as relative – having a ‘relative’ weakness doesn’t mean something is weak, it means it isn’t as strong as its opposing muscle,” Worthington said.
“The quads are used a lot in day to day life, even when we are quite sedentary,” he continued. “The hamstrings however tend to be used mostly during purposeful exercise. A lack of relative strength in the hamstrings versus the quads can cause a disproportionate amount of force on the front of the knee joint as the tibia (shin bone) slides slightly forwards.”
Suggested home exercise: slider hamstring curl
3. Lack of ankle dorsiflexion
“The inability to dorsiflex the ankle (move the top of the foot upwards towards the shin) when walking or running causes the femur (thigh bone) to exert forward pressure on the knee joint as we take off and land,” Worthington said. “Range of motion at joints is very much a case of ‘use it or lose it’ – if we wear high heeled shoes, or (more likely in this weather) ankle boots, then our footwear is actually preventing us from flexing the ankle joint as we take a step.”
Suggested home exercise: knee to wall ankle flexion
Try new shoes
Speaking of shoes, what are you wearing for your runs? I get it: You probably don’t want to spend a lot of money on expensive running shoes if they’re not going to make a difference. But what if they did?
“I’m a stickler for being in the correct running shoes,” Odunubi said. “I offer a foot consult where, as we can’t get to shops, I help you find the best shoe. Why? Shoes are the foundation. We literally spend all waking day in them and running in them too. No matter your strength as a runner, if the footwear isn’t supporting your mechanics, it will always flare up niggles and injuries.”
Remember, pain is your body’s way of waving a red flag and telling you to stop. Don’t just push through it – sort the problem now before you end up causing yourself much more serious damage.
Oh, and I’m very impressed with your commitment to running, kudos to you.
Wishing you well,
As a senior lifestyle reporter at Insider and a self-described fitness fanatic with an Association for Nutrition certified nutrition course under her belt, Rachel Hosie is immersed in the wellness scene and here to answer all your burning questions. Whether you’re struggling to find the motivation to go for a run, confused about light versus heavy weights, or unsure whether you should be worried about how much sugar is in a mango, Rachel is here to give you the no-nonsense answers and advice you need, with strictly no fad diets in sight.
Rachel has a wealth of experience covering fitness, nutrition, and wellness, and she has the hottest experts at her fingertips. She regularly speaks to some of the world’s most knowledgeable and renowned personal trainers, dietitians, and coaches, ensuring she’s always up to date with the latest science-backed facts you need to know to live your happiest and healthiest life.
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