This Is Why Your Knees Always Hurt When You’re Running Downhill

by | Apr 10, 2018 | Fitness

There’s no better feeling than reaching the top of a hill you just slogged up on your run. And no worse feeling than pain in your knees as you start to run down the other side. Why, Universe, why? If knee pain while running downhill is ruining your life and stealing your PBs, here’s some expert info that might help.

What’s Hurting Your Knees

There’s more stress on your knee joint when running downhill than running uphill, explains Durban-based biokineticist and running coach Raeesa Solwa. “Eccentric loading takes place when your foot strikes the ground and your quads and glutes have to work more to stabilise the knee joint,” she says. In other words, your muscles are working as they lengthen, which is a more difficult position for stabilising your joint. “If the muscles aren’t strong enough, many people suffer with ITB syndrome and runner’s knee.”

READ MORE: 4 Quick Tricks That Could Make Running Hills Easier

Runner’s knee (a.k.a patellofemoral pain syndrome in scientific terms) is a chronic injury that can be caused or exacerbated by running downhill, says running coach Sean Tait, owner of Off The Mark Training. If you regularly feel pain at the front of your knee cap, that could be a sign.

How To Run Downhill To Avoid Pain

“Personally, I find running downhill is a great opportunity to take advantage of gravity pulling you down,” says Solwa. “You increase speed and make up time for the uphills.” The trick, she says, is to make sure you’re moving with gravity, not leaning back against it. “Engage your core and lean slightly forward. Shorten your stride so you land lighter; make sure your foot contacts the ground in a mid-foot landing – landing on the heel can cause shin splints and landing too much on the forefoot can cause added pressure to the knees.”
“Focus on keeping relatively small (but frequent) steps when running downhill,” adds Tait. “Long strides will create greater impact with each step and contribute to causing chronic injuries. Shorter steps better disperse impact forces. This is more manageable for the body.” Another option Tait recommends is to run up the hills and walk down them.

Is It Ever Okay To Push Through?

“Sometimes random pains just appear and disappear just as fast for reasons unknown to us,” says Tait. “If you experience some discomfort, you can continue for another minute or two, but if the pain continues or intensifies, you should stop running immediately and walk home.” Solwa agrees. “Sometimes pain will ease off a few kilometres into a race, but if it gets progressively worse, you need to stop.”

Your Plan Of Action

Solwa explains what to do when you feel different pains:
Numbness: Stop and loosen up your laces to get more circulation.
Swelling around a joint: Stop. You could further damage your ligaments.
Knee pain: Try running on the other side of the road or on a softer surface. If the pain persists, stop and try stretching.
Sharp pain: Stop and rest for a bit, then try running again. If it’s better, you’re good to go. If it comes back, stop.
Cramp: Drink more electrolytes – look for juice or energy drinks at the next water point.
If  knee pain is a regular hindrance when you’re running or the pain you felt during your run is still lingering a week later (and you’ve eased off on the mileage), it’s time to see a specialist, says Tait. Make an appointment with a physiotherapist or biokineticist.

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