Inner Knee Pain When Running

Also known as medial knee pain

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Pounding the pavement is a great way to get and stay in shape, but many people experience inner knee pain while running. This is known as medial knee pain since the inner part of the knee is called the medial knee. 

Although running has great health benefits, it puts a lot of stress on your knees and your other joints. Runners can experience knee pain in any area of the knee, but medial knee pain is one of the most common types. That's because the inner area of the knee is where some large muscle groups—including part of the hamstring muscles and the adductor muscles—come together.

Understanding the causes of medial knee pain can help you learn how to prevent it and when it might be time to reach out for medical help. 

What Is the RICE Method?

Verywell / Jessica Olah

Knee Anatomy

The knee is the largest and one of the most complex joints in the human body. So, it’s not surprising that it’s an area where things can go wrong. Knee pain is common at all ages, and about 25% of adults experience frequent knee pain.

The knee joint contains three bones:

  • The tibia (shinbone)
  • The femur (thighbone)
  • The patella (knee cap)

The end of the tibia and femur are covered in articular cartilage, which helps the bones slide by each other smoothly. Between these two large bones are two meniscuses—cartilage pieces that cushion and stabilize the knee.

The knee also contains tendons—which connect muscle to bone—and ligaments—which connect bones to each other. The inner knee is home to the medial collateral ligament, which works with a ligament on the outside of the knee to control side-to-side movement of the joint. 

Runners and Knee Pain

When you run or jog, all the parts of your knees are exposed to extra pressure and strain again and again. Knee pain is the most common injury among runners. Most runners end up with knee pain that builds over time and is caused by this repetition, rather than by one sudden injury.

Causes of Medial Knee Pain

There are many different ways that running can cause inner knee pain. Some of the common causes of medial knee pain include:

  • Pes anserine tendonitis or bursitis: The medial knee is a meeting point of tendons and home to many bursae—small sacks of fluid that cushion a joint. With repetitive motion, the tendons or bursae can become irritated, causing pain and inflammation in the inner knee. These conditions are common among runners, especially those who suddenly increase their mileage or intensity.
  • Torn meniscus: A torn meniscus is one of the most common injuries for runners and is a cause of inner knee pain. With age or repeated strain, the cartilage can weaken, making it easier to tear. Some people who tear a meniscus feel a “pop” or giving way, but other people might not notice it right away. With time, it becomes difficult to move the knee. If you think you have a torn meniscus you should see a healthcare provider, who can recommend treatment based on where in the meniscus the tear happened.
  • Medial collateral ligament (MCL) strain: The job of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) is to keep the knee from being pushed too far inward, toward your other leg. If your knee is pushed inward by pressure on the outer knee, it can strain the MCL. Usually, this happens suddenly with a clear cause, rather than building over time. MCL strain is a less common cause of medial knee pain.

Diagnosis

If your inner knee pain is interfering with your life or exercise routine, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider. An orthopaedist is the type of practitioner that deals with joints, although your primary care healthcare provider is a good place to start as well. 

To diagnose a cause for medial knee pain, the medical professional will do an exam and ask about your history, including your running and sports habits. They may also opt to use diagnostic technologies like an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to identify any specific injuries in the knee.

Treatment

As soon as you begin to experience medial knee pain, you can start treating yourself at home. The American College of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends the RICE method: rest, ice, gentle compression, and elevation. It’s best to stop running until your pain is gone or you have a healthcare provider’s clearance. 

However, you should also reach out for a professional opinion, especially if you’re having trouble moving around. Once a practitioner has identified the cause of your medial knee pain, they will be able to suggest medical treatments.

A healthcare provider might suggest non-surgical treatment—like a brace or cast—physical therapy, or over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medicines to help with pain and swelling. If the cause of your medial knee pain is severe or chronic, your medical professional may suggest surgery to repair the joint. The most extensive surgery for knee pain is a total knee replacement.

Prevention 

If you’re a runner, it’s important to take steps to prevent medial knee pain. One of the best ways to prevent knee injuries is to start slowly, and keep steady progress; don’t increase your mileage or intensity too quickly. Resting between runs and incorporating other types of exercise into your routine can also prevent strain on your knees. 

Wearing the right shoes and changing them every 300 to 500 miles can also help keep your knees stay healthy, as can running on softer surfaces like a track or dirt path rather than pavement.

Surprisingly, stretching hasn’t been linked to less medial knee pain, although many runners feel that stretching helps to keep injuries at bay. 

A Word From Verywell

Running is a great, affordable, and accessible exercise that has benefits for your physical and mental health. However, inner knee pain is common among runners, especially those who are new to running or who run long distances. The best thing that you can do to keep medial knee pain away is to practice good running hygiene:

  • Wear quality shoes
  • Train steadily
  • Take rest days frequently

But remember—inner knee pain can happen to anyone, so if you experience it don’t be shy about reaching out for professional advice and treatment. 

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Pes anserine (knee tendon) bursitis.

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  7. John Hopkins Medicine. Knee pain and problems