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Physical Therapy for Runner’s Knee – Information, Exercises, and More

Every time your foot touches the ground during your run — or walk — you hear the clicks, you feel the rubbing and grinding, and the dull ache seems to last for hours. 

Runner’s knee has been slowing you down for too long and you’re tired of living with the pain. Every time you exercise you hope it disappears, except it never does. 

Sound right? 

It shouldn’t be this way. 

You don’t have to live with the pain and discomfort associated with runner’s knee. Once you know more about what causes runner’s knee, physical therapy, exercises, and other treatments can help, you’ll be full speed ahead.

Table of Contents

What Is Runner’s Knee?

Runner’s knee refers to pain felt underneath your kneecap (patella). 

Runner’s knee can have many underlying causes — but the number one symptom is pain around or behind your knee cap, specifically while running, squatting, or sitting for a prolonged period of time. 

It is most common in those who excessively exercise the area, putting stress on the patellofemoral joint.

What Causes Runner’s Knee?

Causes of runner’s knee may involve: 

  • A kneecap that is too high in the knee joint
  • Weak thigh muscles
  • Tight hamstrings
  • Tight Achilles tendons
  • Poor foot support

But the most common cause of runner’s knee (or the inflammation of your joint) is excessive exercise putting pressure on the knee joint.

Activities like … 

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Squatting
  • Jumping 

… may be to blame for your symptoms, as it is easy to overwork your knees during many sporting activities and exercises involving running or bending the knee. 

Some of the most common causes of runner’s knee include: 


Exercise can feel addictive. Many individuals may find themselves craving more exercise, like running faster, or more often, as they see positive results. However, excessive exercise causes the breakdown of tissues — and your body needs rest for those muscles to recover. 

Continuously working muscles that have not had the chance to recover can result in runner’s knee.

Poor Alignment of Your Kneecap

Your kneecap is a floating bone sitting on a groove formed by your femur. When you bend and straighten your knee, the patella glides up and down. If your patella glides in the wrong direction it can cause friction. 

The result?

Inflammation and pain. 

Weak Leg Muscles

Your quadriceps and hip flexors are responsible for holding your kneecap in place, allowing it to track up and down. 

When these muscles are weak, your kneecap can move in multiple directions — up, down, left, and right — scraping the cartilage surrounding the knee, causing pain and irritation. 

Runner’s Knee Symptoms

Runner’s knee has very specific symptoms that can help doctors identify it and rule out other knee issues like bursitis.

If your doctor or therapist suspects that you have runner’s knee, they may do an MRI to get a better idea of what is causing the pain in your joint.

If you’re suffering from runner’s knee, you may notice that you feel discomfort in your knees when you: 

  • Walk up or down hills or stairs
  • Exercise
  • Sit with your knee bent for an extended period of time; or
  • Squat

Additional symptoms may include the following: 

Kneecap Is Painful To the Touch

Runner’s knee patients may experience pain when the kneecap is touched. 

Pain-to-the-touch is a less common symptom of runner’s knee. If your knee hurts when you touch it, this might indicate an injury to your bones or the outside of your patella.

Burning Pain Under the Kneecap

The most common symptom of runner’s knee is a sharp pain under the kneecap. 

If your pain is to the side or on top of the knee cap, you might be experiencing another knee problem.

Knee Crepitus

Knee crepitus is the clicking, grinding, and crunching sensation within the knee. Certain movements and extended periods of rest may cause this symptom to appear.

Runner’s Knee Treatment

There are several treatments for runner’s knee. Here are the most common:

Runner’s Knee Physical Therapy

If you don’t want to resort to surgery yet, physical therapy exercises for runner’s knee can help.

A Doctor of Physical Therapy will show you how to strengthen other parts of your leg to be able to support your knee better while exercising. 

You might also benefit from certain stretches. Before attempting any stretches or exercise for runner’s knee, consult with a professional so you can be sure that you aren’t making your injury worse.


Improper biomechanics in your feet may be contributing to your runner’s knee symptoms. These symptoms might be alleviated by using properly fitting orthotics.  

A professional therapist can evaluate your feet and see if the way you run is causing your knee pain.


Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E.) may help reduce initial symptoms of runner’s knee, specifically any initial pain or swelling. 

Anti-Inflammatory Medications

Your doctor or physical therapist might recommend medication to help with your runner’s knee symptoms. 

These medications may include over-the-counter oral anti-inflammatories. Or you might be prescribed a corticosteroid injection. 

 Surgery for Runner’s Knee

Surgery for runner’s knee should only be considered after you’ve exhausted other options. Surgery for Runner’s Knee is generally only done in severe cases. 

Before undergoing surgery, talk to your Doctor of Physical Therapy for advice and to weigh all of your options.

Runner’s Knee Physical Therapy — Will PT Help?

Runner’s knee can be easily resolved with the right physical therapy. 

Runner’s knee physical therapy can help by: 

  • Reducing swelling
  • Increasing blood flow
  • Decreasing pain; and
  • Speeding the healing process

The physical therapists at In Motion O.C. have experience with exercise-related injuries like runner’s knee, and they can help you understand what is causing your injury, and how you can overcome it. 

Best Runner’s Knee Exercises

Since we know that Runner’s knee is caused by excessive exercise, rest might be the best thing for your knee, especially if you’re someone who is consistently doing sports and activities that involve a lot of bending, jumping, or running. 

However, there are some exercises for runner’s knee that your physical therapist may recommend to ease and overcome your symptoms.

Strengthening the Surrounding Muscles

Sometimes weakness in your legs can cause extra strain on your knees. 

Your doctor or physical therapist might suggest that you do exercises to target the muscles around your knees. 

Your physical therapist may recommend exercises, like … 

  • Hamstring stretches
  • Leg lifts
  • Clam exercises 

… to help strengthen the surrounding muscles.

Modifying Activities and Exercises for Runner’s Knee

One of the best things you can do for runner’s knee is to change up your activity.

If you want to stick with the same exercise you’ve been doing, try modifying it so you are doing something slightly different with your body. Your physical therapist may recommend less strenuous activities such as swimming

If you’re not willing to give up running, try to run indoors on a treadmill, vs running on a flat surface.

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Runner’s Knee

Searching for more assistance in overcoming your Runner’s Knee? 

In Motion O.C. can help you. Our physical therapists have helped dozens of patients overcome knee pain and can find out exactly what is causing your discomfort. Once they find out what’s causing your pain, they’ll help you put together a strategy for healing. 

Aside from showing you the cause of your runner’s knee, we’ll work with you to adapt with specific exercises and modifications. 

In Motion O.C. is ranked the #1 physical therapist in the entire country on Yelp. Our customers have fantastic experiences, and you will too. Call and make an appointment today so we can help you heal and get back to your regular exercise routine.


*This information about physical therapy for runner’s knee was reviewed by Dr. Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.