What is causing the pain in my knee when I run?

Pain usually indicates something is wrong.


Your knees are complex mechanical structures. When you run, they absorb a great deal of pressure with each stride. A wrong step, a worn-out shoe or an uneven surface can affect the alignment of the structures within your knee. This misalignment can cause pain – and can cause damage inside your knee.

It is not uncommon for runners to feel knee pain. According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, an estimated 70 percent of runners will experience knee pain at one time or another.

The challenge is to determine whether the pain is:

  • a minor injury that will resolve with rest, ice, compression and elevation
  • a more serious injury requiring care and expertise of an orthopedic specialist

If your knee pain continues longer than three days, you should be seen by an orthopedic specialist.

You may have runner’s knee.

If your knee is swollen and tender, especially toward the back and center of the knee where your kneecap and thighbone meet, you may be experiencing patellofemoral pain syndrome or runner’s knee.

Runner’s knee is an overuse injury that causes pain and swelling in the knee. It accounts for approximately 20 percent of all running injuries. This painful condition not only affects runners, but it also slows down cyclists, jumpers and skiers.

Most often runner’s knee occurs when the kneecap (patella), which normally slides up and down in the femoral groove, moves out of its natural track. When the kneecap is in the wrong place, it causes a grating pain. Some people may feel a crackling or popping sensation as they bend and flex their knees. When the pain of runner’s knee is due to a biomechanical problem, it can wear and damage the cartilage.

If an MRI or CT scan fails to show a mechanical problem with the knee, the pain may be caused by inflammation and a hypersensitivity of the pain nerves. In this instance, anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy are keys to resolving your knee pain.

Several conditions may cause runner’s knee.

You may notice runner’s knee after you have fallen or experienced a blow to the knee, which dislocates the kneecap. The kneecap also can move out of place from overuse or excessive training that irritates the nerves or strains the tendons necessary to support your knee’s structure.

Weak leg muscles or foot problems can also contribute to runner’s knee.

It’s no secret that your body works like a fine machine. Tight muscles in your hamstrings and calves combined with weak quadriceps can cause the kneecap to shift. It’s important to strengthen your thigh muscles and maintain flexible calf muscles if you want to continue to run without pain.

Flat feet, fallen arches or other types of foot pain affect how your foot strikes the ground. Often leg muscles compensate for the imbalance straining and stretching the tendons surrounding your knee. If you have foot pain, you don’t have to let it affect your running. Work with a podiatrist to provide proper support for your feet.

If you have foot pain, you don’t have to let it affect your running. Call (920) 996-3700 to request an appointment with an Affinity podiatrist. He can provide you with the proper support and conditioning for your feet, so you can stay on track.

Acension Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center

Madison Center at Ascension St. Elizabeth Hospital
1531 S. Madison St.
4th floor
Appleton, WI 54915
(920) 996-3700

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1506 S. Oneida St
Appleton, WI 54915
(920) 738-2000

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