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When to See a Doc About That Runner’s Knee

Running is a great way to burn calories, relieve stress and crush your fitness goals. But knee pain can put a serious cramp in your running style.

There are different kinds of knee pain, but runner’s knee — which typically causes pain on the front of the knee — is among the most common knee problems for runners.

We talked to Darrin Bright, M.D. — medical director for OhioHealth MAX Sports Medicine and also for the Columbus Marathon and Capital City Half Marathon — about runner’s knee, from prevention to treatment.

About Runner’s Knee

Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, runner’s knee has to do with inflammation on the backside of the kneecap, Bright says. It can lead to pain on the front of the knee, which is often aggravated by going up stairs, kneeling, squatting and sometimes sitting for prolonged periods.

Person tying laces of running shoes on side of road outside


Make sure the shoe fits.

Bright advises runners to wear proper-fitting shoes — and to change out shoes regularly so you don’t put too much stress on your legs. A good rule of thumb is to get new running shoes after 300 to 500 miles.

Don’t just run.

Incorporate strengthening and flexibility into your workout routine, Bright says. “There are a lot of exercises we frequently recommend to runners and walkers to try to strengthen their hips.”

Doctor talking to patient seated on an exam table

Runner’s Knee Treatment

What to do at home

Icing the front part of the knee can help, Bright says. So can working on exercises to strengthen your hips and quads. “This isn’t a condition where I typically find injections or surgery are very helpful,” Bright says. “It’s really being consistent with the exercises.”
Just don’t expect to see results overnight. “Strengthening takes time,” Bright says. “Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t get better right away.”

When to see a doctor

Seek medical attention if symptoms persist, if your gait is being affected or if things don’t improve within a month or so of doing strengthening exercises, Bright says. Also head to the doctor if you’re unsure of the diagnosis. “We want to make sure we’re not missing something else,” Bright says.

Can you continue running?

Use pain as your guide, Bright says. “It’s OK to continue participating — whether that’s running or walking — as long as you aren’t limping.”

Check out some exercises — from hip hikers to planks — that help runners.