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Keys to Running With Bad Knees

author image Tim Petrie
Tim Petrie is a Physical Therapist and an Orthopedic Certified Specialist working in Milwaukee, Wisc. When he isn't working, he loves distance running, Packers football, and traveling with his wife and his energetic three year old daughter.
Keys to Running With Bad Knees
Several steps can help you continue to run despite your bad knees. Photo Credit tommaso79/iStock/Getty Images

The idea of running on chronically achy and sore knees may be enough to cause you to hang up your shoes, but it doesn't need to be. Despite a history of osteoarthritis, meniscus degeneration or tendinitis, it's still possible to continue running. While it can take some patience, several steps help you achieve this goal.

Read More: 11 Myths About Running Debunked

Stretching the muscles surrounding the knee joint helps you maintain the flexibility necessary for running.
Stretching the muscles surrounding the knee joint helps you maintain the flexibility necessary for running. Photo Credit Bojan89/iStock/Getty Images

Improve Your Flexibility

Improving the flexibility in the quadriceps and hamstring muscles can help prevent undue strain on your knees. These muscles, which support the front and the back of the knee respectively, each play an important role in your ability to run with bad knees. Your quads help to propel you forward and to climb hills when running outside. Stretching this muscle helps to ensure it can work effectively.

How To: Lie on your stomach and bend your right knee towards your buttocks. Wrap a belt or a towel around the ankle of this leg and drape it over your right shoulder. Use your right hand to gently pull and flex the knee until a stretch is felt in the thigh area.

In addition to the quads, the hamstrings are also influential when running. This muscle helps to decelerate and control your leg as you swing it forward to take the next step. Stretching it helps the muscle stay flexible and function correctly with each stride.

How To: Sit on the edge of a chair with your knee straight and your ankle bent at a 90 degree angle. Keeping your back straight, bend forward at the hips until you feel a stretch behind your leg. Make sure not to round your back as you do this.

Each of these stretches should be held for 30 seconds and done three to five times on each knee daily.

Quad Strengthening

In addition to helping you move forward while you run, the quads also play another important role. This muscle group adds much needed stability and support to the knee joint. Achieving adequate strength in your quads can help to decrease the pain of osteoarthritis and keep you running. Wall squats are a good way to activate this muscle group.

How To: Place your feet about 12 inches away from a wall and lean your back against it. Let your knees bend and slowly slide down the wall. When the knees flex to a 60 degree angle, hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds before sliding back up again. If this causes pain in your knees, a shallower squat may be necessary. Make sure the knees do not pass your toes or buckle inwards and complete three sets of 10 repetitions each day.


If you suffer from chronic patellar tendinitis, which causes pain in the front of the knee below the knee cap, isometrics may be helpful. This type of exercise can give you immediate relief and allow you to return to running despite this annoying condition.

How To: Sit in a chair facing a wall with your knee bent at a 60 degree angle and your toe making contact with the wall's surface. Press into the wall as if you were trying to straighten your knee and hold this contraction for 45 seconds with 80 percent of your maximal effort before relaxing. After a minute of rest, repeat the exercise four more times and perform this routine daily.

Strengthen Your Hips

The muscles in your hips provide support and help to minimize the strain of running by dissipating the forces placed on your knee joints. One of the most important is the gluteus medius. This muscle, which sits on the side of your hip, helps to abduct or move the hip outwards and prevents a "knock-kneed" posture. The clam shell exercise can be used to strengthen this area.

How To: Lie on your side with your knees bent to a 60 degree angle and your legs stacked on top of one another. Engage your abdominals and lift your top knee into the air. Your feet should stay together and you should not roll backwards as you do this. When you are unable to lift the knee any higher, hold this position for 1 to 2 seconds and then return to the initial position. Do three sets of 10 repetitions of this exercise each day. If it gets easy, a resistance band can be fastened just above the knees to increase the challenge.

Running with shorter steps may help you better absorb the impact and prevent pain.
Running with shorter steps may help you better absorb the impact and prevent pain. Photo Credit ninikas/iStock/Getty Images

Shorten Your Stride

Another easy way to decrease the pounding you put on your knees is to shorten your stride while you run. Increasing your step rate by 10 percent can lead to a 14 percent decrease in the forces through your knee joint. This is because shorter steps cause you to strike the middle portion of your foot when you land. This type of landing is most conducive to absorbing impact and can prevent pain from occurring. Metronome apps are easily downloadable and can assist you with modifying your cadence.

Read More: How to Stop Running Pain

Warnings and Precautions

Despite following all of the advice above, some people's knees may not allow them to comfortably run. If the pain in your knees does not subside or increases when exercising, it is important to contact your physician as further testing and treatment may be necessary.

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