Knee pain is a constant complaint among runners. When excessive stress is put on the kneecaps, a dull pain or ache may develop. This pain is often called runner’s knee, given it frequently afflicts runners and athletes. Fortunately, there are easy ways that you can relieve the pain at home so that the aches of running don’t become burdensome to your life.
What Causes Knee Pain?
Knee pain can occur from any type of physical activity that actively involves the legs. Running on a treadmill can increase your chances of developing knee-related pain or injuries because it impedes the runner’s ability to implement proper form. The continuous bending of the knee that occurs while running is the greatest contributor to knee pain. Over time, it results in irritation of the nerves and tendons and causes the tendons to over-extend, which can result in soreness.
The repeated physical stress put on the knees can also contribute to knee pain. Running on softer surfaces, like lawns or tracks, can mitigate this. Additionally, people with misaligned joints or flat feet are at greater risk of experiencing pain or injury. Having flat feet results in excessive straining of the muscles and tendons in the legs. Misaligned joints will result in uneven distribution of weight while running, which can damage the joints over time.
Different Types of Knee Pain
Depending on the nature of the injury, pain can occur in one or more places throughout the knee. Determining which part of the knee is affected can help you to better focus your treatment efforts on the area in question. There are four main regions of the knee that can be injured.
- Outer knee: Pain experienced in the outside knee or sides of the knee is most commonly associated with runner’s knee and is the most frequently occurring knee pain among athletes.
- Back of knee: Pain in the back of the knee is referred to as posterior knee pain, and it is a product of the swelling of the interior tendon. It is typically caused by overusing a sore knee or by reinjuring a recently healed knee injury.
- Medial knee: Medial knee pain refers to pain existing in the inner knee. While some knee pain is instantaneous, medial knee pain usually develops slowly over time.
How to Treat Knee Pain
For avid runners, chronic knee pain from running can put a damper on their favorite activity. Fortunately, treatment for mild knee pain is easy to do and can be treated from home. However, if you are experiencing more severe knee injuries, characterized by sharp pain or symptoms that don’t subside within a few days, then you will want to see a doctor for further diagnosis. It’s possible there may be other underlying factors contributing to the pain, such as arthritis. Here are some tips on what to do when knee pain arises:
- Allow your knee to rest. Regularly exercising with a sore knee can potentially worsen your condition and result in a more severe injury.
- Elevate the knee. Your knee should be raised as much as possible throughout the day and night. While sleeping, rest pillows beneath your legs so that your legs are positioned above your head. While at work or lounging around the house, always have your injured leg raised as well. You need to position the kneecap so that it’s raised above the hips, but not so high that it’s level with your heart.
- Compress the knee. Compression is key to healing. It will encourage blood flow, minimize pain and soreness, and reduce bruising and swelling. Use knee sleeves or elastic bandages regularly for the first two to three days after a knee injury.
- Do regular stretching exercises. This will help to relieve pain and loosen the muscles, which promotes healing.Be sure to stretch your legs gently so as not to induce pain. Over-stretching may actually worsen the injury.
- Take anti-inflammatory medication. Taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine like Advil, or Aleve, can lessen the pain you experience, while minimizing swelling. The anti-inflammatory medicines should only be taken for the first two to three days, until the pain begins to subside. Many medications have unhealthy side effects and can be dangerous with prolonged use.
- Ice your kneecap regularly. Ice should be applied for 30 minutes each time, at least three times per day for two to three days. By regularly icing your knee, you can greatly decrease the swelling and pain experienced.
Stretches for Knee Pain Relief
People who enjoy running long distance will experience a higher likelihood of developing knee pain. It is important, not only to stretch a sore knee, but also to regularly stretch before and after exercise in order to reduce the chance of injury. Here are some easy stretches you can do to alleviate knee pain.
- Butterfly stretch: When sitting on the floor, bring both feet inward, with your heels positioned near your buttocks. Press gently on your legs using your elbows, until you begin to feel the stretch. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds and repeat it five or more times.
- Hamstring stretch: Sit on the floor with both of your legs extended straight in front of you. Lean inward, with your arms extended, stretching until you begin to feel it. Hold the position for 10 seconds before releasing. Repeat this stretch at least five times.
How to Prevent Knee Pain
For devoted runners and athletes, knee pain is ultimately inevitable at some point. By implementing preventative measures into your exercise routine, you can reduce your risk of pain and injury.
- Work on building your hip, knee, and quad muscles. Those with weak leg muscles have a higher risk of sports-related injuries and knee pain. By regularly maintaining and building the strength of your hip, knee, and quad muscles, you can reduce your risk of developing knee pain later on.
- Perfect your form. While exercising, you need to ensure that you are running or jogging in proper form. This will reduce the strain on your knees and lower your chances of injury.To minimize risk of injury, your stride should be short and fast. Many runners try to extend their stride in hopes of gaining speed. However, this can increase your risk of injury in return. Additionally, your knees should always be in alignment with your feet, rather than having the feet extend in front of the knees while landing.
- Use arch supports in your shoes. Arch supports are best if they are custom made to adhere to your foot. However, store-bought arch supports will work as well. They can give you greater support when running and reduce the stress on your knees.
- Avoid running downhill. Running down hill can intensify the pain of an existing knee injury and also make you more susceptible to future injuries. Use downhill portions of your run as an opportunity to cool down, and reduce your gait to a casual walk.
At some point in every athlete’s life, they are likely to experience some degree of knee pain. If your knee hurts after running, there are easy ways to fix the problem before it escalates into something more severe. By utilizing the preventative measures discussed here, you can reduce your risk of knee-related injuries and enjoy your physical activity for many years to come.