When your knees really hurt from running, your body is trying to warn you that something is wrong. Don’t ignore it; if you keep running, you’ll risk causing further damage. Go to a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment so you can get back to the sport you love.
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You’ll help your doctor diagnose your problem faster if you pay attention to the pain. Determine whether your pain comes from the top, bottom or sides of your knee. Does it feel like it's deep inside or under your knee cap? Is the pain sharp or a dull ache? Does it hurt more when you go downhill or squat? Do your knees make any noises like popping or clicking? Is there any knee swelling? These symptoms are associated with different knee problems; reporting them can help your doctor narrow down your trouble.
If you've torn a tendon, cartilage or a ligament, it was probably because a misstep twisted the knee the wrong way. If so, you likely heard a loud popping noise and experienced immediate swelling and pain deep inside the knee. Common problems include a torn meniscus and a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Overuse of the knee -- especially for runners who flex the joint back and forth with each step -- often causes three conditions. These include patellofemoral pain syndrome, which occurs when the knee cap is knocked off its track; iliotibial band syndrome, inflammation of the long tendon that runs along the outside of your thigh and connects at your knee cap; and patellar tendinitis, tiny tears -- in the tendon connecting your knee cap to your shin -- that your body can't repair fast enough. Injured kneecaps and iliotibial bands tend to click, crunch or pop when you flex them. Kneecap pain comes from behind the kneecap. Iiliotibial band pain cuts across your knee and up your leg. Tendinitis aches.
Treatment for conditions that hurt your knee follows a similar pattern. Your doctor will first want you to rest your knee and get swelling down with ice, cortisone shots or anti-inflammatory drugs. You should undergo imaging so that your doctor can make an exact diagnosis. Expect an MRI and an X-ray. Rest, bracing and physical therapy may be all you need to return your knee to health. However, you may require surgery to fix a knee problem if it doesn't respond to exercises to strengthen your knee. If so, prepare for weeks of physical therapy afterward to rehabilitate your knee.
Preventing knee pain can become a chronic challenge. You'll have more success if you strengthen your knees regularly. The focus will be on your quadriceps muscles in the front of your thigh that enable you to straighten your leg. However, all of your leg muscles -- including your gluteal muscles in your hips, your hamstrings in the back of your thighs, and your soleus and gastrocnemius muscles in your calves -- must be in shape for running. Strengthen them routinely and they'll absorb the pressure you place on your knees, going a long way to protect your knees and prevent further injury.