This information does not and should not take the place of advice from your trusted knee doctor, physical therapist, or professional. This is simply my experience, my personal research, and my tips that have helped me with my knee discomfort while running.
I’ve been consistently running for the last 13 years. In the last year or so, I started noticing some discomfort in my knees towards the end of my runs.
After one run I actually came home with a slightly swollen knee! I knew then that I needed to be more intentional about protecting and strengthening my knees.
Here are the two major things I did to get rid of knee discomfort. I’ve been consistent with these two things for the last year and I rarely have any knee aches now when I run.
1 – Strengthening My Knees in Multiple Positions
There are many great ways to strengthen your knees. Exercises such as squats, lunges, and leg presses can be very helpful.
However, these exercises typically strengthen your knees at just a 90 degree angle, with your knees behind your toes. However, if you pay attention, your knees often move past 90 degrees on a regular basis (aka, knees going over your toes) – such walking down stairs, jumping, and other positions.
This is why I think it makes sense to strengthen the knees in the position where the knees are over the toes.
I thought this was very interesting…
“The majority of the world has been scared away from strengthening this quality in exercise, because a 1978 Duke University study determined that there is more pressure on your knees when they go over your toes. NO DUH!
The result = knee surgeries and knee replacements going up 10X per capita since then, and now determined to be at epidemic levels, with 790,000 knee replacements last year…”
Read the full article here.
The easiest way to start strengthening the knees while over the toes? Walking backwards.
I started with walking backwards on a treadmill for at least 5 minutes a few times a week. This is an easy and relatively safe way to start strengthening the knees in that “knees over toes” position. You can also try a “deadmill” for added resistance. This is where you keep the treadmill off and walk backwards- using the resistance of the belt to make it a little harder.
If you’re interested in learning about more knees over toes type exercises, I recommend checking out Ben Patrick (Knees Over Toes Guy) and @womenofatg over on Instagram.
2- Strengthening My Glutes
The second thing I did to get rid of knee discomfort was to strengthen my glutes.
I suspected that some of my knee discomfort was possibly coming from an IT band issue. I did a bunch of research and digging and discovered that a common reason for IT band and knee pain is actually weak glutes- particularly weak abductor muscles.
The main abductor muscles are the glute medius, glute minimus, and the TFL. These muscles work together to move the leg away from the body.
I started adding banded abductions and lying leg raises to my routine each week. Sure enough as my abductor muscles got stronger- my knee pain went away and I haven’t had any issues, pain, or swelling since. I still include regular abduction exercises in my routine.
Other Tips to Reduce Knee Discomfort While Running
- Start by warming up before and stretching after running to keep the knee mobile.
- Make sure to wear proper running shoes. You may consider minimalist shoes over super cushioned shoes. (More info on this below.)
- Gradually increase your running distance and intensity to prevent overuse injuries.
- Cross-train with strength training and other activities to strengthen your knees and increase their mobility. (Like walking backwards 😉 )
- Consider consulting with a physical therapist or knee doctor if you suspect a knee injury or issue you can’t quite figure out.
Should I Run in Barefoot Shoes?
Barefoot shoes, also known as minimalistic shoes, are designed to mimic the sensation of being barefoot while providing some protection for the feet. They typically have a minimal heel-to-toe drop (the difference in height between the heel and the toe of the shoe), a wide toe box so the toes can spread out, and a flexible sole.
Some research shows that wearing barefoot shoes can help improve knee health by promoting a more natural and efficient gait, which can decrease the stress on the knees.
They can also promote proper feet development and even help resolve issues like bunions.
However, switching to barefoot shoes should be done gradually to allow the feet and legs to adjust.
For example, when I switched to minimal shoes I noticed more engagement and soreness from my tibialis (shins) and calf muscles. I would suggest getting used to barefoot type shoes via walking and then gradually introduce running.
Here is a YouTube video that goes more into depth in this subject if you’re interested.
Wrapping It Up
If you too struggle with knee discomfort while running or are just looking for gentle ways to strengthen your knees I hope you consider these tips!
If nothing else I hope you’ll start walking backwards (if able) and strengthening your glutes. That alone can make a huge difference as it did for me!
Have questions? Drop them in a comment below!