​Best Exercises for Managing Runner’s Knee Pain

man and woman running together outside

It’s commonly called runner’s knee, but anyone can experience patellofemoral syndrome — pain that’s typically in front of the kneecap, but that can also be behind or around it. You notice it when you bend your knee to get up from the sitting position, walk, run, squat, or kneel. 

The pain tends to worsen when you walk downhill or down a flight of stairs, and it may cause swelling or a grinding sensation. You might also hear a popping sound in your knee. 

Treatment for runner’s knee pain typically includes rest, wrapping, icing, and elevating the knee, and taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as directed. There are also knee stretches, described below, that you can do to help prevent patellofemoral pain in the first place. They increase the strength and flexibility in the muscles associated with runner’s knee pain.

Runner’s Knee Pain Exercises

Use these six patellofemoral pain syndrome exercises daily to prevent or reduce runner’s knee pain. It may take up to six weeks to notice a difference, but these stretches can help you enjoy more pain-free movement in your knees.

  1. Straight leg lift. Lie on your back on the floor. Bend your right knee at a 90-degree angle and leave the left straight. Using your thigh muscles, lift your left leg until it’s at a 45-degree angle to the floor. Hold for 2 seconds, then slowly lower it to the floor. Repeat up to 20 times, then switch legs. Do 2-3 sets. 
  2. Standing quad stretch. Stand upright near a wall or chair for balance. Raise your left foot behind you and grab your ankle with your left hand. Pull your foot upward and close to your body. Keep your knees together as you do this. Hold for 15 seconds and then switch sides. Do 2-3 sets. 
  3. Standing calf stretch. Stand facing a wall. Keeping your right leg straight and your right foot flat on the floor, step forward with your left foot, bending your left knee as you do and putting your hands on the wall. Lean into the wall and bend your knee further to deepen the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds. Return to the upright position. Repeat up to 3 times for each leg. 
  4. Clam exercise. Lie on your right side with your hips and knees bent and your legs/feet stacked on top of each other. Keeping your heels together, raise your left knee toward the ceiling, creating a clamshell shape. Hold for 2 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat up to 15 times and then switch legs. Do 2 sets. 
  5. Wall slide. Stand with your back against a wall, your heels approximately 6 inches in front of your hip bone, and your feet shoulder-width apart. Slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold for 5 seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times for 1 set. Do 2-3 sets.
  6. Step up. Stand near a flight of stairs. Place your left foot onto a stair that’s approximately at knee height. Step up, lifting your right foot off the floor 12 inches or more. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat 10 times for each leg. 

Should You Run with Knee Pain?

Regular stretching can help prevent or reduce runner’s knee pain. However, you may still experience pain at times. If you do, you’ll need to decide whether to “run through” the pain. 

Generally speaking, it’s best to rest and treat a sore knee until the pain subsides. And if you have sharp pain in your knee, you should stop running and talk with your doctor. 

Care for Your Knees with Knee-Strengthening Exercises at Home

Caring for your knees doesn’t require a trip to the gym or your physical therapist. You can stretch and exercise your knees at home to increase their strength and flexibility. 

But if your knees hurt from running or any activity and you have questions or concerns about them, our orthopedic and sports medicine experts are here and happy to help. They can talk with you about patella pain and patellofemoral pain syndrome treatments. 

Learn about our orthopedic and sports medicine services online. 


Next Steps and Useful Resources

Find a Provider
Tips for Maximizing Running Performance
How To Avoid Knee Pain When Running
Tips to Start Running if You’re Over 40
How to Strengthen Your Knees: 7 Helpful Home Exercises

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