Whether you’re a long-time runner or just starting out, having sore muscles after a run is normal. But if you are experiencing knee pain after running, something more serious could be wrong. Board certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Zach Logan explains common reasons your knee may hurt after running on Livestrong.com.
“Tight hamstrings and calf muscles both cross the knee joint in the back. Runners are pretty notorious for having tight hamstrings, so focusing on flexibility can help with knee pain,” Dr. Logan says.
Pain below the kneecap is likely due to repetitive stress on your knee from running. Over time, that stress could result in patellar tendonitis. “Physiologically, this is the inflammatory cells in your body becoming overactive in a certain area.” Dr. Logan explains.
Although it’s less common, knee bursitis can also be caused by excess pressure on the knees while running, Dr. Logan says. Small, fluid-filled sacs, called bursa, are located near joints, and can become inflamed, causing pain. “In the case of runners, this would most likely be pes anserine bursitis, which is on the inside of the knee, but further down between the shinbone and three tendons of the hamstring muscle at the inside of the knee,” Dr. Logan states.
“For the IT band to be stretched, your knee has to cross the midline of your body,” he explains. “This rarely occurs during straight-line running, so all it gets to do is contract over and over.”
Proper strengthening and stretching of the glutes and quads can help prevent you from developing IT band syndrome. “Runners are notorious for having tight ITB structures, so focusing on the gluteal muscles and ITB stretching and strengthening is a good insurance policy,” Dr. Logan says.
“Maintaining strength of the muscles in the front in the thigh is another easy way to help keep the knees functioning well,” he adds.
If you notice pain and stiffness in your knee with everyday activities, not just with running, you may have osteoarthritis, especially if you are over 50. Osteoarthritis is more common with age and can happen in the knee whether you run or not, Dr. Logan says. While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications can help the pain subside, and regular exercise can keep pain at bay, Dr. Logan explains.
To help prevent knee pain when running, Dr. Logan recommends a proper warm up and cool down and to gradually build endurance. He suggestions not increasing distance or intensity by more than 10 percent per week. This slow-and-steady increase will help your body adapt to your training without risking overload and injury. He also suggests you “spend the money to get fitted for the right shoe for your foot shape, and keep track of your miles.”
If you are experiencing knee pain after running and rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications don’t provide relief, you may consider making an appointment with your orthopedic surgeon.