We hope that you love our articles and find them useful and informative! In full transparency, we may collect a small commission (at no cost to you!) when you click on some of the links in this post. These funds allow us to keep the site up and continue to write great articles. Click here to learn about our review process and affiliate structure.

The Best Ways To Protect Your Knees When Running

Common sense says prevention is the best form of medicine. And that’s what this article is about: teaching you how to prevent knees problems now so that you don’t deal with issues later on. If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, a stretch a day will keep you running!

In this article, we’ll cover different ways to protect your knees, from exercises and stretches to what to do after a run with knee pain to overall suggestions on how to deal with knee pain from running.

Why Should You Protect Your Knees?

First of all, the knee is the largest and most complex joint of the body. Your knees are essential for running because they are used in both the driving and recovery phases. You are setting yourself up for success both now and in the future if you have strong knees.

There are three common knee condition runners suffer from. Runner’s knee is pain around your kneecap, often due to overuse. Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is pain outside of the knee, again often due to overuse. For older runners, osteoarthritis ican be a common problem as well.

If you injure your knees seriously, it might spell an end to your running days. Even basic day-to-day activities like sitting down could be uncomfortable.

Strong knees will help you stay steady and balanced as you age, making falls less likely. Healthy knees could even increase the number of years that you live (often a bad fall is the beginning of the end for many older people).

Stretches and Strengthening Exercises for Knees

If you want to keep your knees and surrounding muscles nice and healthy, you should do strengthening exercises for the muscles around your knees. Often, runners suffer knee injuries because the rest of their body isn’t strong enough.

This is particularly true for those with osteoarthritis, as strengthening exercises are one of the best ways to treat it. Additionally, if you have extra weight, losing a couple pounds will help your knees quite a bit. Finally, don’t forget that running on level ground will also help too.

Leg Lifts

Start by lying down on the floor with your back flat to the floor. Bend one leg slightly at the knee and keep the other leg straight. Then slowly lift the straight leg, bringing your foot closer to your body.

When your leg is about one foot from the floor, you should hold for five seconds and then slowly lower the leg down. Repeat for two more times and then switch sides.

Step Exercises

If you have an exercise platform that is not taller than six inches, you can try this exercise. Step onto the platform with one foot and keep your body weight on that foot.

Then slowly lower the other foot (not on the platform) down and allow the foot on the platform to push down as well.

Switch legs and repeat, but make sure that your knees are not locked during any part of the exercise. They should be slightly bent.

Toe Touches

After you exercise, stretching is always a great idea. A good way to extend your muscles and put leg tension around the knees is to try touching your toes. Put your feet close together and bend at the hips and attempt to touch your toes.

Make sure that your knees are not locked but that your legs are straight. If you haven’t stretched in a while, you may not be able to touch your toes, and that’s okay. Get as close as you can and hold for 20-30 seconds.

Wall Slides

Wall slides are a good, safe strengthening exercise if you are a little unsteady on your feet. The move will strengthen the quads and glutes, helping to put less pressure on your knees.

Simply start with your back flat against the wall. Keep your feet about two feet from the wall. With your back against the wall and your feet hip-width apart, slide down the wall slowly until your body is in a normal sitting position. Hold for five seconds, and then slide back up.

The key is to move slowly, not quickly or in a jerky movement. Also, make sure that you do not squat too low. Your knees should always be behind the toes.

What to Do About Knee Pain During a Run

Runners take pride in toughing it out. But if your knee starts to hurt when you’re running, don’t want to tough it out. Cut your run short, go back home, and take proper care of your knees.

Start first with the RICE method: rest, ice your knee, put compression on your knee, and then wrap and elevate your knee. Taking an anti-inflammatory pill will help with any discomfort or pain.

Then cut back your mileage for the next couple days. Or, cross-train while you give your knee time to heal. Although it’s always a bummer to miss a run, it is always better to miss two runs than two months of running due to injuries.

Swimming or other water exercises could be great cross-training options because they are low impact. This is exactly what you want when you’re recovering.

Other Ways to Protect Your Knees

If you want to protect your knees before you even have to cut a run short due to knee pain, consider some of the following options.

Change Your Form

Good form will ensure that you do the least amount of damage to your muscles and joints – ideally, none. If you’ve been running for a little while, there’s a chance that your form has started to get sloppy. Use your next run as a check-up.

Are you slightly leaning forward, chest open, standing straight, and looking ahead? Be especially vigilant when you are at the end of a run, as it is easy to get tired and start to slouch.

If you’re a heel striker, this has been shown to impact your knees. Aim to land in the middle of your foot and really watch yourself to see how successful you are.

One great way to accomplish this is to increase your cadence. This almost always mean shortening your stride. That will naturally lead to you landing more on your midfoot and less on your heel. 180 steps per minute is a commonly cited ideal cadence. Of course, there are many exceptions. Taller runners will have a slower cadence, and cadence changes with pace as well. Make sure, though, that you are not lengthening your stride. Rather, increase your turnover rate.

Change Your Gear

If your form is great, but you are still worried about knee pain, check out your gear. Are you wearing the right type of shoes for knee pain?

If you’re still having problems, consider using cushioned shoes like Hoka. Many of the older runners that I know wear Hokas and swear by them.

Additionally, you can always wear a knee brace or a sleeve for added protection. This is what my best friend does, and it makes her exercising that much more enjoyable.

Change Your Training

If everything is squared away with form and gear, check your training. Are you someone who is gung-ho and trains all the time? You might be susceptible to an overuse injury. Rein in your training a little bit to avoid overtraining.

Also, although we all know that running is awesome, don’t forget about cross-training to minimize pressure on your knees. Finally, make sure that you increase your weekly mileage slowly so that you’re giving your body time to adjust to the new demands you’re asking of it.

Knee pain when running is avoidable. Make sure you’re taking the steps you need to prevent any knee injuries. Even an extra five minutes of stretching, five minutes of warming up, and five minutes of cooling down can make a huge difference in the impact on your knees.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner