That being said, several factors can contribute to knee pain. For runners, an overuse injury from repetitive motion can be a culprit, but if you blame the problem alone, you may miss other literal pain points that are worth addressing. Below, two experts on all things running and knee pain, from their pro tips on what might be causing your knee pain while running—and what to do to keep your body healthy for the miles.
Is running *really* bad for your knees?
Running isn’t “bad” for your knees, though it’s not the best activity choice for every single person, says Dr. Rodante Saballa, director of movement at wellness club Remedy Place and a board-certified chiropractic sports physician. You should always check with your doctor before starting any new fitness routine, and if you’re already dealing with knee or other joint pain, consider getting cleared by a physical therapist before pounding the pavement.
“For most of the population, [however]Running is a great activity to improve physical health, cardiovascular capacity, and fitness [support] mental clarity,” says Dr. Saballa, who adds that the aches and injuries people associate with running are usually caused by human error rather than the activity itself. Two common examples are failing to warm up properly or skipping cool-down stretches.” Both lead to excessive tightness in the muscles around the knee, which ultimately leads to poor biomechanics in the joints. And that’s where a lot of pain and suffering comes from,” says Dr. Sabala.
Do this 10-move dynamic warm-up sequence from Nike Master Trainer Traci Copeland before any type of running workout:
Without skipping a proper warm-up and cool-down, you can look at a more holistic picture to fully understand running-related injuries and pain. “Injuries are complicated,” says Nick Kafker, co-founder of Recover Athletics, who has worked with the world’s leading sports medicine physicians and researchers to design evidence-based workouts that help runners prevent injuries. “People like to blame single things like shoes, or the hard surfaces we run on, but science suggests that pain is complex and usually the result of a combination of factors like training, sleep, nutrition and life stress – job, family, finances. They all adds.”
3 Ways to Prevent Knee Pain from Running
1. Strength training
Dr. Saballa and Kafka agree that taking a preventative, aka “pre-hab” approach to knee pain should be your first line of defense. “One of the things we can do as runners to fix and prevent knee pain is to maintain a consistent strength routine to keep our bodies strong and flexible,” says Kafker, who cites two studies with promising results for lifting weights: a Studies show that athletes who strength train have fewer overuse injuries, and another finding is that of lifting And Running (aka hybrid training) improves performance.
Another reason to prioritize weights: Having more muscle can help take some of the impact from wearing out your joints. “Doing some sort of hybrid strength training where you’re able to develop muscle will help reduce the impact and stress on the joints because [muscle] able to take more energy,” says Dr. Saballa.
2. Heat properly
As Dr. Saballa mentioned earlier, not priming your body for running beforehand is a big no-no when it comes to preventing knee pain. Because both prevent injury and pain for specific reasons. Let’s start with the warm up.
“The two biggest points of a simple warm-up are to increase core body temperature and improve blood flow to your working muscles. This is really important because increased core temperature optimizes the activity of certain enzymes for energy and metabolism, and then increases blood flow. Brings fresh oxygen and fresh nutrients to those working muscles,” says Dr. Saballa According to Dr. Saballa, in addition to dynamic stretching, walking is a great way to warm up the muscle groups you use while running.
3. Expand later
It’s tempting to hit the shower straight after a run, but cooling down is key to helping keep your knees and body pain-free. Dr. Saballa says the goal of cooling down is to lower your heart rate and body temperature, and prevent the stiffness in your muscles that can occur when your lactic acid builds up. “If you’re engaging in active recovery, the goal is to use the same muscle groups you used in your activity. So if your main activity is running, walking is a great cool down.”
Once your heart rate and body cravings begin to return to normal, don’t skip post-workout stretches. And when it comes to knee pain and running, the main muscles to target are the calves, hip flexors, quads and glutes, according to Dr. Saballa. “The glutes are so important because they anchor your pelvis and the lower end of your spine,” he says. “So this is one area where force transfer is either your worst enemy or your best friend. If we can capitalize on keeping those glutes loose, not only will it keep the lower half happy, but it’ll keep your spine and lower back happy. We will be.”
This cool-down stretching technique for runners will: