It’s all in your hip.

One of the most common ailments among runners is runner’s knee, or patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). This condition is characterized by pain located under, slightly above or slightly below the kneecap. Sometimes you may hear a popping sensation; sometimes you may not. The condition typically worsens when running uphill or downhill and in severe cases, the knee may swell.

Runner’s knee often occurs as a result of an increase in mileage. Some runners may experience occasional pain while others are plagued by it almost every time they add more miles. The condition may also be a result of poor running form or core strength.

Treating and Preventing Runner’s Knee

The best way to treat a case of runner’s knee is to track back to the initial root cause of the pain so you can focus your energy on correcting it. There is typically tension found in the hips, quads, lower back and/or abdominal muscles so focusing on stabilizing and strengthening these areas is a great place to start.

According to research, stabilizing the kinetic chain by way of strength work can do wonders when it comes to reducing pain associated with runner’s knee. According to one study, 19 participants who suffered from runner’s knee (PFPS) underwent an eight-week hip- and core-strengthening program, which resulted in a significant improvement in terms of pain as well as knee function. Another study from researchers at the University of Kentucky found that gait retraining is helpful in reducing symptoms of PFPS. In this study, runners with PFPS underwent eight gait retraining sessions, which focused on internal hip rotation, pelvic drops and other exercises that were done in hopes to reduce pain while improving hip mechanics. After the training, the athletes reported a significant decrease in pain. Improvements were also noted in running mechanics. This goes to show that strengthening and stabilizing through gait retraining can go a long way when it comes to reducing not only pain but the cause of runner’s knee.

If you have not ever experienced runner’s knee, strengthening and stabilizing your body through gait retraining may also help prevent the condition. By fortifying your hips and core, you are reducing your chances of injury.

Hip-Strengthening Exercises

Here are some of the most common exercises prescribed to help runners strengthen their hip and core regions, which are proven to be helpful in both treating and avoiding runner’s knee.

Bridge: Lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, lift your butt off the ground slowly. Keep your back straight while engaging your lower back and glutes, holding for 10 seconds. Slowly lower your body back down to the ground. Repeat this exercise seven to 10 times.

Clamshells: Lying on your right side while bending your knees at a 45-degree angle, keep your feet together while slowly lifting your left knee to “open up the clamshell” per se. Pause and lower your knees to then “shut the clamshell.” Repeat this movement 10 to 15 times on both your right and left side.

Bird Dog: While on all fours, lift your left knee and right hand off of the ground, bringing them toward each other under your body. Then stretch your left leg back behind your body and your right hand out in front. This completes one exercise. Repeat this 15 times and then do the same with the opposite sides.