10 Exercises to Prevent Runner’s Knee

News flash, runners: You’re putting a lot of strain on your knees.

As many as half the injuries associated with running, particularly in lower extremities, occur in the knee, according to research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Indeed, patellofemoral pain syndrome — more commonly known as “runner’s knee” — is commonly cited by the National Institutes of Health as the most common running injury.

If you’ve ever experienced dull pain and tenderness behind your kneecap as a result of running, you might be familiar with this malady. Anything that strains the knees, like running downhill or squatting, tends to exacerbate the discomfort. This can occur when the patella rubs against the femoral groove or there is reduced cartilage in the knee.

In terms of potential causes, studies point to tightness in the hamstrings, quadriceps and iliotibial band or lack of strength in the hamstring, quadriceps and hips. As is with most running injuries, when one structure isn’t functioning optimally, it affects the surrounding structures. In this case, when there’s poor flexibility and strength toward the top of the kinetic chain, it has a detrimental effect lower down at the knees.

Whether you suspect you harbor some of the risk factors for developing runner’s knee and you’re looking to make a pre-emptive strike, or you’re already feeling the effects of this injury, there are a number of actions you can take. In particular, it’s important to focus on strength, flexibility and mobility at the hips. Just three weeks of hip-strengthening work has been shown to make a difference when it comes to reducing pain associated with runner’s knee, according to the Journal of Athletic Health, so it’s well worth your time if you’re struggling with this issue.

Choose 6-8 of these simple exercises 2-3 times per week to prevent or address pain and dysfunction associated with runner’s knee.While these are similar to what many clinicians recommend to address these types of issues, if you need more guidance, it’s worth making an appointment with a physical therapist who can specially design a program for you.

Hip Strengthening Exercises

Fire Hydrant
On all fours, support your weight with your knees and hands on the floor. Lift your right knee directly to the side, keeping it flexed at 90 degrees. Bring it back to the original position, repeat 15 times and switch sides.

Side Leg Lifts
Lie on your right side with your legs straight and stacked on top of each other. You can rest your head on top of your right arm and put your left hand on your hip or on the ground to help balance your body. Lift the top leg straight up as far as is comfortable and lower back down. Repeat 10 times, and switch sides.

Glute Bridges
Lie on your back on the ground with your arms at your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your backside off the ground until you form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Push your heels into the ground, and feel your glutes stabilizing your body. Hold for two seconds, lower your body back down and repeat 10 times.

Clamshells
Lie on your right side with your knees bent on top of each other and your right arm under your head to support it. Keeping your feet together, open the clamshell by lifting your top knee up. While your hips will rotate during this exercise, your pelvis and core should remain stable. Close the clamshell, repeat 15 times and switch sides.

Bird Dog
While on all fours, raise your right hand and left knee off the ground. Extend your right arm out in front of your body and your left leg out behind your body. Hold for 2 seconds before bringing your right hand and left knee together under your body. Repeat the motion 10–15 times, and switch sides.

Hip Abduction
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with a chair or sturdy post to the left of your body. Loop a resistance band around the chair or post and your right ankle. Keeping your leg straight, raise your right leg sideways as far as possible. Return to the original position, repeat 8–10 times and switch sides.

Hip Flexibility and Mobility Exercises

Leg Swings
Start with forward leg swings by standing next to a wall for balance, and swing your right leg forward out in front of your body and then back behind your body. Keep your leg straight as you do this, and avoid swinging past the point of comfort. After repeating with both legs, switch to the sideways variety. Similar to forward leg swings, simply swing the right leg toward the left, sweeping your foot across the front or your body and then back to the right. Repeat for 15 leg swings in each direction on each leg.

IT Band Foam Rolling
While on your side, place your hip on the top of the foam roller just below the hip joint. Stack your legs, and use your hands to stabilize your body. Slowly roll down toward your knee, stopping before the roller reaches the knee and then roll back up. Repeat 5–10 times, and switch sides.

Hip-Flexor Stretch
With your right knee on the ground, bring your left foot out in front of your body and bend that knee to a 90-degree angle. Slowly push your hips forward toward the left knee, feeling the stretch at the front of the hip. Hold for 20 seconds, switch legs and repeat 4 times on each side.

Low Lunge
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and step your left leg forward, bending at the knee and getting into low-lunge position. Your right leg should be extended straight behind your body. Lean down and put your fingertips on the ground on either side of your left foot. Hold for 10 seconds, return to the original position, repeat 2–3 times and switch sides.

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Mackenzie Lobby
Mackenzie Lobby

Mackenzie Lobby Havey is a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She contributes to a variety of magazines and websites including TheAtlantic.com, OutsideOnline.com, espnW.com, Runner’s World and Triathlete Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in Kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running, and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.