Exercises For Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

Exercises For Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

From the non-scientific name of runner’s knee, it might seem that Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome only occurs in runners or athletic people. However, anyone can develop this syndrome, especially people who may have arthritis or other joint problems. 

Patellofemoral Syndrome is a rather common knee ailment, representing up to 40% of knee issues in sports medicine. Let’s take a look into what causes the problem and some exercises for runner’s knee that can help treat it.

What Is Runner’s Knee?

Runner’s knee is essentially a broad term for kneecap pain. You can feel the pain in the tissue underneath the kneecap itself or areas around the kneecap. It can happen in one or both of your knees. Your knee consists of

  • Part of the femur
  • Part of the fibula and tibia
  • The patella (kneecap)
  • Cartilage (lateral and medial meniscus)
  • Tendons (lateral and medial collateral ligaments)

All of the above parts of the knee could be causing the knee pain you feel from runner's knee. Cartilage acts as a barrier to protect your bones from shock, so it’s often the cartilage that becomes damaged in relation to runner’s knee. But, the pain could even come from stretched tendons, which is why this ailment is an umbrella term. Runner’s knee can happen due to several things, but there are a few main causes, including

  • Alignment issues 
  • Weak or tight muscles
  • Overuse of the knee and its surrounding bones and tissues
  • Genetic factors such as flat feet
  • An injury

Symptoms of Runner’s Knee

To identify Patellofemoral Syndrome, you’ll need to pay attention to the symptoms you’re experiencing. Some common symptoms that come along with the ailment include:

  • General pain in or around your kneecap
  • Pain when you use your knees for strenuous activities such as walking, running, squatting, sitting for too long, riding a bike, or going up and down the stairs

Due to these symptoms, you can usually identify runner’s knee on your own, but you should have your doctor take a look to be sure. 

Oftentimes, runner’s knee treatments include physical therapy, pain medication, and rest. Runner’s knee cases rarely need surgery, which is usually reserved for cases of severe malalignment. 

9 Exercises to Help Runner’s Knee

Let’s take a look at a few exercises for runner’s knee and runner’s knee stretches you can practice to get your knee back to normal. Keep in mind that it might be a good idea to wear a brace for runner’s knee while doing these exercises. Knee braces for runners can keep the patella in place and support your knee so you can minimize further damage while exercising.

Donkey Kicks

To do some donkey kicks, you’ll need to follow these steps:

  1. Get on your hands and knees. Your arms should be straight under your shoulders and your knees should line up to your hips.
  2. Brace your core and lift your right leg with your knee still bent at a 90-degree angle, while keeping your foot flat. Keep your back straight and flat while doing this. Lower your leg back down and repeat this action for up to eight to 12 repetitions. About two to three sets should be enough, as you don’t want to overwork your painful knee. 
  3. Repeat the repetitions and sets for the left leg.

Straight Leg Lifts

To do straight leg lifts, follow these steps:

  1. Lay down on your back. Keep your arms straight by your sides with the palms of your hands on the floor.
  2. Bend your left knee upwards, while keeping the right leg straight and flat on the ground.
  3. Keeping your right leg straight, raise your leg upwards at around 45 degrees and gently lower your leg back down to the floor. Do this for eight to 12 repetitions and two to three sets.
  4. Switch legs and repeat the above steps.

Side Leg Lifts

Side leg lifts are a little similar to straight leg lifts. You’ll just be lying on your side for them. The steps for side leg lifts include:

  1. Lay down on your right side while keeping your legs straight.
  2. Rest your head on your right arm and put your left hand on your hip.
  3. Gently lift your left leg at about a 45-degree angle while keeping your leg completely straight.
  4. Lower your leg back down. Repeat these actions for eight to 12 repetitions and two to three sets.
  5. Repeat these steps for your other side.

Step Ups

You will need some sort of stepping block or an object you can use as a stepping block for this exercise. To do step ups, follow these steps:

  1. Place your right foot on the stepping block, flatly and firmly. 
  2. Bring yourself up with your right foot so you are now standing on the block.
  3. Move your right foot down to the ground behind you and follow with your left foot so you are standing back on the ground.
  4. Repeat these movements for eight to 12 repetitions and two to three sets.
  5. After you finish with your right leg, repeat these steps for your left leg.

Clam or Clamshell Exercise

To do the clamshell exercise, follow these steps:

  1. Lay on your right side with your legs stacked and bent at about a 45-degree to 90-degree angle. Support your head with your right arm.
  2. Keep your right leg on the floor and gently lift your left knee while keeping it bent. Your feet should still be touching. Raise your knee as high as you can without causing your hips and spine to shift. You’re essentially making an opening clamshell movement.
  3. Lower your leg back down so it is back to resting on your right leg.
  4. Continue to do these movements for eight to 12 repetitions and two to three sets.
  5. Lay on your left side and repeat these steps.

Wall Slides

To do wall slides, follow these steps:

  1. Stand with your back against a wall. Spread your feet apart so they are about the same distance as your shoulders. Keep your arms by your side.
  2. Slide your back down the wall until your knees are at about a 45-degree angle.
  3. Hold this for a few seconds and then slide back up.
  4. Repeat these motions for about eight to 12 repetitions and two to three sets.

Bridge Kicks

To do bridge kicks, use the following steps:Lay on your back with your arms by your sides. Your palms should be on the floor.

  1. Bend your knees so they are at about a 45-degree angle. Your knees should be pointing upwards towards the ceiling. Keep your feet flat.
  2. Lift your gluteus maximus off the floor so your core aligns with your thighs.
  3. Lift your right leg and extend it outwards until it is straight.
  4. Bring your right leg down.
  5. Lift your left leg and extend it outwards until it is straight.
  6. Bring your left leg down.
  7. Alternate your legs with this exercise for eight to 12 repetitions (half of the repetitions on your right leg and half on the left) and two to three sets.

Standing Calf Stretch

To do standing calf stretches, follow these steps:

  1. Face the wall and press your hands against it while keeping your arms straight.
  2. Put your right foot in front of you and your left foot in the back. Your feet should be a few feet apart.
  3. While keeping both feet flat on the ground and your arms straight, lean the right leg forward so it bends. Support yourself by leaning into the wall with your straight arms. Hold this for a few seconds then lean back into your original position.
  4. Do this for eight to 12 repetitions and two to three sets.
  5. Repeat everything, but with your left leg in front.

Standing Quad Stretch

To do standing quad stretches, follow these steps:

  1. Stand straight with your arms by your sides.
  2. Using your right hand, reach behind you and hold your right foot.
  3. Bring your right heel to your gluteus maximus. Hold this position for a few seconds.
  4. Let go of your foot and go back to a standing position.
  5. Repeat this for eight to 12 repetitions and two to three sets.
  6. Repeat these steps for your left leg.

Things You Should Avoid

While healing and going through runner’s knee treatments, there are some things you should avoid. Some of these things include:

  • Going into deep squats
  • Deep lunges
  • Sports and running
  • Standing or sitting for a long time
  • Anything else that will cause pain and possible swelling

To heal properly, you generally need to take things easy. Make sure to use a knee brace for runners if you cannot avoid using your knee for extra strenuous tasks like full kneeling.

To prevent Patellofemoral Syndrome from happening in the first place, you should do the following:

  • Stretch before and after any kind of exercise, especially running
  • Replace your running sneakers every 300-400 miles, because old sneakers don’t absorb shock 
  • Examine your running posture and correct it if needed


Runner’s knee, or Patellofemoral Syndrome, can be difficult to treat if you don’t follow the correct runner’s knee treatments. The key is to rest when you need it, use ice, do some runner’s knee stretches, and learn some exercises for runner’s knee. 

The above exercises are great for healing as they don’t place excessive amounts of pressure and stress on your knees. Use them in tandem with what your doctor suggests. As long as you listen to your body and follow the correct treatment regimens, you should be on your way to recovery in no time. 


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