How to Relieve Knee Pain for Runners
Running is one of the world’s most popular forms of exercise and staying fit. Although running has many health benefits, up to 40% of all injured runners will experience some form of knee pain or injuries this year. This article will comprehensively cover the causes, treatments, and proven ways to relieve knee pain for runners.
Common Causes of Knee Pain in Runners
In a 2020 study conducted in Austria, researchers found that knee pain was overwhelmingly the most common cause of running injuries. Runners have frequently reported of the following knee conditions:
- Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome): PPS is an umbrella term that describes pain within the kneecap, especially in the front.
- Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome: The iliotibial band (ITB) is a thick band of fibrous tissue that extends from the outer hip to the outer knee. Repetitive running movements can cause friction between the ITB and knee joint – leading to inflammation, irritation and pain.
- Jumper’s Knee (Patella Tendinopathy): Jumper’s Knee is typically characterized as distinct and localized pain underneath the kneecap. The repetitive strain of running overworks the tendon, which impacts your recovery, irritation, and discomfort.
- Knee Osteoarthritis: This knee condition is more common in those over the ages of 50. Osteoarthritis is typically associated with aging and leads to the breakdown of cartilage between the knee joint. Currently, research indicates that there is no link between long-distance running and the development of knee osteoarthritis.
Three Ways to Relieve Knee Pain
The most effective treatments will vary depending on the diagnosis of your knee condition. Universally, these are three proven strategies that you can help alleviate knee pain.
- Preventative strengthening and exercise
Strengthening the muscles around the knee reinforces the joint’s stability, which can improve the tolerance of physical activities (e.g., running, squatting, etc.). To determine the best exercise for your knee condition, we recommend consulting a physiotherapist or osteopath.
- Wearing appropriate running shoes
While running, forces greater than three times your body weight are going through your knee during each step. That’s why having sufficient support from running shoes is crucial for reducing the force of impact and correcting the leg’s alignment. Avoid running in worn-out, casual, or sneaker shoes.
- Pacing your runs
One common mistake that injured runners make is either stopping their runs completely or pushing through the pain. Instead of taking either extreme, try reducing your speed and/or distance of your runs. You may even opt to power walk or jog to allow your knee pain to recover.
How Physiotherapists Help Patients with Osteoarthritis of the Knee
Depending on the severity of your knee osteoarthritis, your physiotherapist can offer you different solutions and strategies. Seeing a physiotherapist can be extremely beneficial for both the short-term and long-term management of your knee pain.
Physiotherapy techniques, such as soft tissue massage, electrotherapy, bracing and dry needling have been shown to improve knee osteoarthritis in the short-term by:
● Reducing the local inflammation
● Relieving tension of the soft tissue surrounding the knee
● Decreasing the sensitivity of the structures around the knee
On the other hand, strengthening and resistance exercises are the gold-standard for the long-term management of knee osteoarthritis.
Physiotherapist-supervised exercise programs can delay and even prevent more invasive treatments, such as medication or surgery. One example is the Dutch-invented GLA:D program, which has been shown to reduce knee osteoarthritis pain and symptoms by 32%.
Image 1. How resistance exercises lead to positive outcomes in those with knee osteoarthritis. Source.
Poor joint stability and the cartilage degeneration between the joints contribute to the worsening of knee osteoarthritis. Researchers have shown that these types of exercises strengthen and rebalance the muscular structures around the knee. Restoring the strength and support around the knee helps improve the knee’s overall stability and shock absorption during movement (e.g. walking, jumping, etc.)
Every physiotherapist will have their unique approach for helping your knee osteoarthritis and getting you back to running. However, the most crucial step is being proactive and patient. All positive outcomes will take time, especially for long-term injuries.
Taking Joint Supplements
The foundation of our body is nutrition. The knee joint and surrounding tissues are made of nutrients and whilst supplements cannot claim to relieve pain, having the right nutrients in your body is an important part of maintaining knee health.
Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM, Type II Collagen, Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Turmeric and well known nutrients taken by runners.
Cartonica is a liquid joint supplement which has a 6,000mg nutrient blend and includes all of these nutrients in a single serving, more than any tablet. You can see more about the role of each of these nutrients and the evidence in the ingredients tab here.
Every runner is likely to experience knee pain at some point in their life. There is a balance between being strong, wise or stupid (!) when it comes to exercising with an injury.
The main thing we would say is if you are thinking about your knees or have pain, then like listening to a knocking sound in your car, it is worth seeing a physiotherapist to have things checked out.
Knee pain does not have to stop you from running. In fact, most knee conditions can be managed by following simple steps without any invasive treatment.
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Cymet, T. C., & Sinkov, V. (2006). Does long-distance running cause osteoarthritis?. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 106(6), 342-345.
D’Lima, D. D., Fregly, B. J., Patil, S., Steklov, N., & Colwell Jr, C. W. (2012). Knee joint forces: prediction, measurement, and significance. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part H: Journal of Engineering in Medicine, 226(2), 95-102.
GLA:D Australia Program. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.toptotoe.com.au/glad-australia-program-2/.
Vincent, K. R., & Vincent, H. K. (2012). Resistance exercise for knee osteoarthritis. PM&R, 4(5), S45-S52.