Pain Above the Knee Cap With Running

Chondromalacia patellae refers to a dull pain in the area of the knee cap. Many athletes, especially runners and cyclists, suffer from the syndrome. Determine the cause of the pain in your knee to get the appropriate treatment and and take steps to prevent future knee pain and injury.

A runner with upper knee pain
Credit: blyjak/iStock/Getty Images


The knee is the largest joint in the body and experiences stress every day, especially when you run. As your feet hit the ground, your knee serves as a shock absorber. Because the joint relies heavily on tendons, ligaments and muscle -- all soft tissues -- the repetitive stress can lead to pain. Many young runners, especially females, have knee caps that do not line up well with the rest of the leg, and this misalignment is a common cause of chondromalacia.

When to See a Doctor

Pain around the knee cap may also indicate other more serious conditions, such as arthritis, so see your doctor to diagnose the cause of your pain. Common symptoms of chondromalacia include a dull pain that worsens after prolonged sitting, a grinding sensation as you straighten and bend your knee, and tenderness when you push on the knee cap with your leg straight. If you experience sudden pain, inability to put weight on the knee or a popping sound, see your doctor right away, as these symptoms could indicate a tear in one of the joint's tendons or ligaments.


To temporarily relieve knee pain from running, your doctor may prescribe rest and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen or aspirin. If the pain is severe or persistent, a physical therapist can help evaluate your leg alignment and suggest exercises to help correct your posture and running stride. If other treatment options don't work, arthroscopic surgery may help.


One of the best ways to prevent knee pain and injury is to strengthen the hamstrings and quadriceps muscles, which lend support to your knee joint. Squats, lunges and leg presses work both muscles at the same time, while leg extensions isolate your quadriceps and lying leg curls isolate your hamstrings. When you run, always wear supportive shoes, and replace shoes before they become worn out. Repetitive movements can lead to pain, so consider alternating your workouts between running and other activities, such as biking or swimming.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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