Suffering from Runner's Knee? Try These 5 Physical Therapy Exercises

Physical Therapy for Runner's Knee

Many runners experience patellofemoral pain, but these simple exercises can help strengthen the knee joints and prevent debilitating injuries.

As far as aerobic exercise goes, running ranks as one of the top methods to improve heart health and burn calories. Yet it’s also hard on our joints, particularly the knees. Many dedicated runners therefore suffer from a painful condition known as runner’s knee.

The medical term for runner’s knee is patellar chondromalacia or patellofemoral pain syndrome. It occurs when the patella, or kneecap, slips out of alignment due to a loosening or tightening of the surrounding muscles. Runners are particularly at risk for this injury, which causes pain in the front of the knee and swelling in the joint. Other symptoms include a grinding or clicking sensation when the knee is bent or straightened. Although runners might not feel pain when running, they may notice that the discomfort intensifies when walking up or down stairs.

Runner’s knee is typically treated through physical therapy with exercises to strengthen the thigh muscles, or quadriceps, as well as the hip muscles. For runners with knee pain, a physical therapist will likely recommended these five exercises.


To strengthen your quad muscles, try these two stretches. First, place a small towel underneath your knee as you lie down. Then, tighten your top thigh muscles as you press your knee into the towel, and hold for five seconds.

The second exercise is known as the short arc quad. Similar to the first, lie down with your knees straight. Put a soccer ball or paper towel roll underneath your knee. While keeping the back of your leg in contact with the object, straighten your knee and hold for five seconds. Do each exercise 10 to 15 times, twice a day.


This exercise is designed to strengthen both the quadriceps and the hip muscles. Lying on your back, bend one knee while keeping the other straight. Lift your straightened leg up about 15 inches off the floor as you squeeze the top thigh muscles. Stay in that position for a few seconds and then slowly lower your leg. Repeat 10 to 15 times. To minimize pain, be sure to keep your knee locked. You can also do this exercise while lying on your side or stomach.


Quadriceps aren’t the only muscles runners must strengthen to avoid knee pain. The muscles along the back of the upper thigh, or hamstrings, also play a role in maintaining healthy knees. To exercise the hamstrings, use a chair or stool that’s around the same height as your knee. Put the heel of your painful leg on the stool as you point your toes upward, keeping your shoulders aligned with your hips. Lean forward from your waist and hold for 30 seconds.


In some cases, your knee pain may be caused by weak gluteus medius muscles, which hold the kneecap in place. This exercise can help increase the strength of those muscles.

As you lie on your side, bend both knees. Tighten your abdominal muscles as you raise the top knee. During this exercise, your feet should always be touching. Hold the position for a few seconds, and do between 15 to 25 repetitions. You can strengthen your muscles further by wrapping a resistance band around your knees.


This exercise also bolsters the gluteus medius muscles that keep your kneecap in place. Begin by lying on your side with a belt secured around your ankles. The belt is there to provide resistance as you slowly lift your top straightened leg and press into the belt. This gives your hip muscles a good workout as you maintain that position for about five seconds, repeating 15 times on each side.

If you’re experiencing persistent knee pain, consult one of the top physical therapists at All Sports Physical Therapy. We can help guide you through these exercises and more so you’re able to get back to running pain-free. Schedule an appointment today.

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