Stretches to Improve a Runner's Knee

Runner’s knee is a common condition that plagues runners and other athletes such as skiers and cyclists, according to the American Academy of Osteopathic Surgeons. Also known by other terms such as patellafemoral pain syndrome, it leaves your knee unstable, weak and painful. An exercise program that includes strengthening and stretching exercises can help improve your symptoms and restore proper knee function.

A runner holding her knee. (Image: m-gucci/iStock/Getty Images)

Definition

Runner’s knee occurs when your knee cap does not track properly over your knee joint. This condition may place more or less pressure on the cartilage in the joint and eventually cause the cartilage to deteriorate, especially on the inner part of your knee cap, says Stephen Pribut, a podiatrist based in Washington, D.C. It may cause pain particularly while walking down stairs, running downhill or sitting for long periods.

Causes

Some people with runner’s knee have a naturally mal-aligned kneecap. However, other causes may include having wide hips, injury, repetitive strain or too much training and flat feet, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. You may also develop runner’s knee if the muscles in your thigh are tight or weak, or if there’s an imbalance between your hamstring and quadricep muscles. Stretching exercises can correct imbalances caused by tight muscles and relieve runner's knee.

Hip and Buttock Stretch

For this stretch, sit on the floor and bend your right leg so that the foot of your right leg is near your buttocks. Cross your left leg over your right leg so you feel a stretch in your left hip and the left side of your buttocks. To elongate the stretch, pull your knee slightly toward you. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, rest for a few seconds and then repeat six times, recommends FamilyDoctor.org.

Hamstring and Calf Stretch

Tight calf and hamstring muscles often make your feet pronate when you’re walking or running and cause an internal rotation in your legs, explains Pribut. They can also increase the stress on your knee cap, thereby moving it out of position and contributing to runner’s knee. Pribut recommends performing hamstring and calf stretches. A simple hamstring stretch involves sitting on the floor with both legs extended and bending forward — from your hips, not your waist — to try to touch your toes. For a calf stretch, hold on to a desk or table while standing and extend one leg behind you while keeping your other leg slightly bent. Hold each stretch for 5 to 10 seconds and repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times.

Iliotibial Band Stretch

In some cases, you may suffer runner’s knee if you have a tight iliotibial band, a tendon-like structure that runs from the hips down the outside of your thigh and tucks in just below your knee. To stretch the iliotibial band, cross your right leg in front of your left leg. Bend over toward the left with your hands together and try to reach down to your toes. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds and repeat 5 to 10 times, the American Academy of Osteopathic Surgeon recommends.

Caution

Always warm up for before performing stretches. Spend about 5 to 10 minutes walking or cycling on a stationary bike at moderate intensity. Never bounce during stretches. If you feel pain, stop the stretch.

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