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How to avoid and recover from a knee injury caused by running

Matt DeBole Doctor of Physical Therapy Candidate University of Pittsburgh

Most runners experience knee pain at some point in their career. Knee injuries are characterized as overuse injuries, meaning they occur gradually over time with subtle symptoms. This can make them challenging to diagnose and may require patience during the recovery process. However, by taking certain precautions and listening to your body, the road to full health can be a smooth one.


Do listen to your body

If you have pain while running, back off. The old adage of “no pain, no gain” is neither relevant nor smart, and will only increase the length of recovery time.

Do wear supportive footwear

Many times overuse injuries come from running several days or weeks in the wrong gear. This can lead to problems including sore joints and muscles. There are many different shoe options out there and it’s important to find one that will work for your unique form. Natural motion shoes are a good way to promote your proper foot strike and build a strong stride.

Do log your miles

Keeping track of how many miles you’ve run each day, week, and month allows you to notice patterns and pinpoint what triggered the knee pain. Did you increase your mileage too much last week? Was that one workout too long? It’s easier to determine what to change in the future to avoid a relapse.

Do reduce your weekly volume

The one simple way to rehab an overuse injury is rest, although rest and patience are two words runners generally do not like to hear. The body is very capable of healing itself with the proper amount of time. Use this break from running to concentrate on other activities: try swimming or other forms of cross-training.

Do see a professional

A three day break at the start of pain is a good rule of thumb. However, if backing off in training does not help, visit a physical therapist. Not only will they help relieve the pain but will give you tools to build strength and minimize imbalances in your gait. Professionals will monitor exercises that will strengthen these areas for healthier running form and injury free running.


Do not run through the pain

Thinking that you can run through the pain is an outdated way of thinking that can lead to more serious injuries. Running through pain can lead to changes in form and puts added stress on other areas of your legs. It’s better to stop and let the knee pain calm down before continuing your workout routine.

Do not stretch before your workout

For runners, typical tight muscles include hip flexors, hamstrings and calves (your hips, thighs and legs), so it’s important to keep your muscles loose. But, don’t stretch a cold muscle. Warm up with a brisk 5 minute walk and cool-down with stretching that feels light and relaxing – not painful.

Do not continue training if your knee is swollen

If you experience swelling or painful knee buckling, locking, popping or clicking, these may be signs of a more serious injury. Seek the help of a professional.

Do not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent

When building up mileage, it’s important to do so gradually. Letting your muscles and tendons adjust to the added stress will strengthen them and help avoid future injury. Increasing your mileage by 10 percent is a good benchmark, but if you feel any pain, keep with your current weekly mileage and don’t increase it.

Do not be discouraged

Even if you’re experiencing pain, with proper treatment, it will heal. The main thing to remember with any sort of knee injury is to be patient and build fitness gradually.

Jumping cartoon

When rehabbing a knee injury, or any injury, it’s important to stay patient. Many runners want to return to full capacity too quickly which can lead to a relapse in pain. By listening to your body and receiving the proper treatment, the pain will heal and you’ll be able to return to the activities you love. Remember to seek the help of a professional if you experience swelling, buckling, a popping sensation or if the pain does not subside with three days of rest. By following the simple advice listed above, you’ll be able to return to running soon!

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Photo Credits: © Antonio Gravante -; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Matt DeBoleDoctor of Physical Therapy Candidate

Matt DeBole is a Doctor of Physical Therapy candidate at the University of Pittsburgh. A five-time track and field All-American at Georgetown University, Matt went on to compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters qualifying for the se...

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