Running and knee pain

Running and knee pain

Well, this period of enforced restricted movements is frustrating but clearly very necessary.  We have to keep reminding ourselves that in hospitals all around the country there are many seriously unwell people and amazing NHS staff working tirelessly to help them.

The bit of freedom we have been given to exercise once a day has been embraced by many people.  Running has become even more popular with the closure of gyms, classes and swimming pools.   Running is a great way to keep fit and to provide some headspace to take ourselves away from the daily stresses of life.  However, it can be much harder than people expect!

Physio’s routinely see people who have picked up various aches and pains as a result of running.  We are going to share some thoughts about why this is and what you can do about it.  Obviously, this is general advice and can’t replace an individual assessment and tailored program but there should be some things that you find are relevant to you!


Why do my knees hurt when I run?

Let’s assume that you have healthy knees (ie, no history of injury and no advanced arthritis – that doesn’t mean there’s no hope, but the advice and management may be a little different).

So you’ve started running and after a few runs your knee is starting to hurt.

This may be a result of:

  • Simply trying to do too much too soon. We’re all guilty of this at times.  Running is hard and it takes time for your body to adapt and time to recover after each run.  Often just having a few days off and then starting again but not going so far, or adding more walk breaks can help (if you are new to running you could try a “couch to 5k” program, such as or one of the numerous apps available)


  • A lack of strength. Running can result in forces of at least 2-3 times your bodyweight going through the knee.  That takes a lot of strength to deal with!  If you don’t have enough strength you may also develop tightness in your thighs, hips, or calves.  Stretching or foam rolling can help, but the weakness needs to be dealt with.


  • Biomechanics – a fancy way of talking about how we move.  We find that a lot of knee pain is the result of what your foot and hip are doing – the problem is not your knee itself even though the pain is there!


Identifying and addressing the underlying causes is what we as physio’s specialise in.  Here are a few simple exercises that we find are helpful to lots of runners.  Aim to do three sets – 30 seconds each time (or until you start to fatigue), 3 times each week.  Have a go and see how you get on!


Calf raises

Stand on the edge of a step and push up on to your toes.  Make this more difficult by adding a weight or going on to 1 leg.

Vary between doing this with your knees straight and then with your knees bent.




Squat down keeping your heels on the ground.

Try to not let your knees move past your toes and keep your kneecap in line with the middle of your foot.

If you get knee pain with this, see if there is a range you can manage without pain and use this.


Side steps

Put an exercise band around your feet to make this most effective (some people like to have the band around their knees or ankles).

Bend your knee and lift your heels.  Side step in each direction.

If you don’t have a band, try holding a weight instead.


Single leg bridge

Lay with knees bent (you can have your arms by your sides for support if you need to start with)

Lift one foot keep thighs level.

Lift your hips without arching your back or twisting.



and one to help if you have a lot of tension along the side of your thigh (this may be sore!)…

Foam rolling

Lay on your side with foam roller under the side of your thigh.

Move yourself along to roll the outer edge of your thigh.

(you might find it easier to support yourself on your elbow)

Try leaning forwards and backwards a little to cover the whole area.

Repeat for 3-4 minutes.


Hopefully this will be a good start.  If you need more support please get in touch!


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