Sport Topic- Runners and Hip and Knee Pain

By: Laura Wenger, PT, DPT

Are you a relatively new runner beginning a self-structured running program? If your answer is yes, listen up! A recent study out of Denmark observed 629 novice runners over the course of a year and found some interesting results related to hip strength and knee pain.1 One of the most common knee injuries among runners is known as Patellofemoral pain (or PFP), and it is a diagnosis that still is not completely understood.1

PFP is often the diagnosis given if you have pain where your kneecap (the patella) and your thigh bone (the femur) contact. There are many different factors that can be at play in PFP, including abnormal patellar tracking, tight muscles around the knee and weak muscles of the thigh and hip. The group of researchers who published this study sought to investigate whether the strength of hip abductor musculature, the ones that help lift your leg straight out to the side and stabilize your hips when you are standing on one leg as you repetitively do while running, varies among people who do and who don’t end up developing PFP.1

Now, to the important stuff: the results. After testing the runner’s hip strength before they started their running program and then following up with them throughout the year if they began developing knee pain, the researchers had a large database of information.1 Upon sifting through all of their data, the researchers found that participants with higher eccentric hip abduction strength seemed to be associated with lower risk for being diagnosed with PFP during the first 50 km (about 31 miles) of their running program.1 After that distance, there was no significant difference between the higher strength and lower strength groups.1 This highlights the importance of making sure that your hip strength is adequate in order to potentially forestall knee pain before you begin a new running program if you are new to the sport.1

Although there are many other factors that could possibly be related to the knee pain, this factor of hip abduction strength is one piece of the puzzle. Make sure you speak to one of our physical therapists if you are embarking on a new running program, in order to find ways to train the hip abductor muscles and get screened for other risk factors for developing Patellofemoral pain.

  1. Ramskov D, Barton C, Nielsen RO, Rasmussen S. High Eccentric Hip Abduction Strength Reduces the Risk of Developing Patellofemoral Pain Among Novice Runners Initiating a Self-Structured Running Program: A 1-Year Observation Study. J Ortho Sports Phys Ther. 2015; 45(3): 153-161.