Why You Have Sore Knees From Running

Sore knees from running can be fixed by correcting your running foot strike and knee action (bent vs unbent knee joint) at touchdown.

Heel strike running is thought to lead to excessive loading on the knee joint, causing pain. In heel strike running, the knee unbends and ‘locks up’ at touchdown, resulting in poor shock absorption and high muscle loading on the knee joint.

Sore Knees From Running

Let’s examine this in closer detail.

Why You Have Sore Knees From Running

The connection between heel strike running and knee pain is that greater loading is exerted on the knee joint because the knee is unbent and stiff (maximum knee extension, shown below) at heel strike. This has been found to result in poor absorption in the leg [1].

Cause of Knee Pain When Running

Heel striking also increases deceleration and compression forces on the knee-joint [1], thereby contributing to knee pain.

To remedy knee pain from running, many heel strikers invest in well-cushioned running shoes that have heel counters. Sadly, heel counters only worsens the pain by encouraging the runner to strike higher on their heels.

  • Heel counters increase the rate of absorption at heel strike, but do not lower deceleration, or compressive forces [1], suggesting that heel counters do not stop cumulative stresses on the knee during heel strike running.

Therefore, such forces are a mere by-product of heel strike running mechanics that can be reduced, or eliminated by forefoot running –a running style that is significantly different kinematically than heel strike running.

(Click here to see what a forefoot strike looks like)

Forefoot Striking Prevents Sore Knees

Forefoot runners strike the ground with a slightly bent, compliant knee (shown below), which seems to be a natural shock reducing mechanism that is especially common while running barefoot. Likewise, most barefoot runners land with a forefoot strike whereby accounts of knee injury in these runners is very low.

How to Prevent Knee Pain When Running

In addition to running forefoot, run in a minimalist shoe without a raised heel as this will help you effectively maintain your forefoot strike and good knee bend.

Below, is a video of  Tirunesh Dibaba demonstrating a proper forefoot landing. Notice a flatter foot placement where the front part of the foot makes initial contact with the ground, then the heel is dropped.

More From Run Forefoot:

How to Run Smoother

Why Running is Safer for Obese People

Why Heel Striking Should Be Avoided

Bouncing When Running: Good or Bad?

References:

[1]. Jorgenson, U. (1990). Body load in heel strike running: the effect of a firm heel counter. The American Journal of Sports Medicine 18, 177-181.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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