Many athletes struggle with various chronic injuries named after their sport and a specific body joint. For runners, it’s “runner’s knee”— a painful symptom of overuse or injury that’s felt around the kneecap.
If you’re currently struggling with this issue now or just want to reduce the chance of runners’ knee recurring or developing for the first time — and hindering your training and racing as a result — you’re in luck. I caught up with physiotherapist Dereck Steffe, DPT, who sees this issue in all too many of the athletes who come to him for treatment at Return to Sport Physio in Evergreen, Colorado. Here are his five go-to exercises that can help you banish runners’ knee pain for good.
Runner’s Knee Stretches and Exercises
1/2 Kneel Quad Mobilization
This is a mobilization of the quadriceps, which feeds slack downstream into your knee joint to help alleviate runner’s knee.
- Begin in a half-kneeling position with your right knee bent on the ground and your right foot resting against a wall. Your left foot should be on the floor in front of you.
- As the stretch gets easier, lean back so that your right glute gets closer to your right ankle.
- Repeat on left side
Low Lunge With Reach
This is a mobilization of the illiopsoas and rectus femoris, which can exacerbate runner’s knee when they’re too tight.
- Beginning in the top position of a push-up, place your right foot to the outside of your right hand while engaging your core.
- Lift your right hand up as you rotate upwards towards the ceiling, following your hand with your gaze.
- Slowly drop your hips until you feel a gentle stretch in the upper leg and/or hip. Make sure you’re breathing through your nose.
- Hold briefly, then repeat on the opposite side.
90/90 Sit with Reach
This is a mobilization of the gluteus medius and TFL, which can contribute to excess stiffness in the posterior chain that can cause or contribute to runner’s knee.
- Sit in the “90/90” position with your left leg in front and your knee bent at 90 degrees, resting on the outside of your leg. Your right leg is to the side, knee bent to 90 degrees, resting on the inside of your leg.
- Reach with your right hand and rotate to your left, placing both hands on the ground to hold the stretch.
- Repeat, reversing the leg position and reaching in the opposite direction.
This is a mobilization of the soleus and gastrocnemius, which feed tension up into your knee when they’re tacked down.
- Stand next to a stable surface with your left foot on the surface and right foot on the ground.
- Your left knee should bend as much as possible, controlling your weight with your right leg.
- Move your left knee forward, keeping it aligned with your left big toe.
Wide-Legged Forward Fold
This is a mobilization of the hamstrings, which are a prime contributor to runner’s knee when they’re left unmobilized.
- Stand with your feet double hip-width apart.
- Bend forward at the waist, keeping your back straight.
- Bend forward until your torso is parallel with the floor.
- Once parallel, fold your torso forward, controlling your descent with your hands on the floor.
While no exercise can completely cure a condition like runner’s knee or totally rule it out in the future, performing Steffe’s mobilizations and strengthening the muscles and connective tissues in your legs with one to three gym sessions per week — depending on your training load and racing calendar — can go a long way in helping you escape this painful and sometimes debilitating condition.