How Do I Stop Knee Pain When Trail Running? | Hikers University

If you’ve regularly been suffering from knee pain after every jogging session or trail run, you might want to take corrective measures to remedy the problem.

Knee pain can seriously hinder your performance and prevent you from making significant improvements in your trail running, leading to frustration and annoyance, and making it difficult for you to pursue your passion. Two of the common knee-related conditions that many runners suffer from including Patellofemoral Syndrome and Iliotibial Band Syndrome. These can cause inflammation towards the outside or front of your knees, making it challenging to cope with the pain.

Some ways you can reduce the inflammation or pain in your knees is by warming up effectively by slowly increasing the duration of any physical activities and by picking the proper running shoes. You must also stick to softer terrain for running because it protects your knees from stress.

If you wish to overcome your knee pain entirely, you will have to be more meticulous about your training sessions. You will have to avoid terrain like concrete and roads because they repetitively pound our knees with the same load, leading to general wear and tear.  Trail runners are typically protected from knee injuries if they stick to trails and avoid hard surfaces, making it essential for you to consider softer alternatives to pavements and roads. You must prioritize proper practices to ensure that your knees are warmed up properly to face the load-bearing onslaught of uneven terrain. You will also have to find a pair of shoes that are optimal for running, which means you'll have to visit an establishment that specializes in running shoes with staff that is knowledgeable about the effects of running.

We have done a lot of research on this topic and have compiled this article in a digestible form so you can alleviate any painful symptoms you are experiencing from trail running. Continue reading if you wish to learn how to stay pain-free without giving up this thrilling activity.

Table of contents


How to Prevent Knee Pain When Trail Running?

Warming up is the most important activity you can do to prepare for a trail run, and without priming your muscles and joints for a strenuous activity, you are likely to get injured.

Since running has many benefits, people are particularly enthusiastic about trail running because it improves cardiovascular capacity and mental health.

But running can be quite taxing on our tendons, joints, and ligaments, so warming up is crucial if we wish to protect our knees from stress and strain.

Warming up allows us to gradually work our way up to the strenuous activity and promotes the flow of synovial fluids to our joints, which work as a lubricant.

The Patellofemoral joint is where there is friction between the patella and femur, causing us to feel pain if there is not enough lubrication to allow these two bones to slide against each other smoothly.

After your joints are primed for movement, you need to activate muscles in your hips and glutes to support your running, and they also contribute to control and stability for your knees once you begin running.

You can do wide-legged bodyweight air squats to prime your muscles for running, which will improve their activation prior to running.

Choose Proper Running Shoes For Trail Running

If you’re wearing any old sneakers for your running sessions, it’s no wonder you’re experiencing knee pain.

Many people are not aware that their running shoes play an important role in being able to run without experiencing knee pain.

Your knee joints rely on stability and control from other joints, including those of the hips, feet, and ankles, making it a requirement for you to consider finding the proper running shoes.

The improved stability from your feet and ankles makes it easier for your Patellofemoral joint to bear your body's load as you run, which means that comfortable running shoes are necessary.

Since running can be pretty repetitive and overload your knees and other body parts, you might want to invest in shoes that do not agitate the problem.

You will do well to visit a shop that specializes in running shoes and get an expert opinion from staff that is knowledgeable about running shoes.

Our biomechanics are different, and you may want to get a suggestion after letting the staff observe your running gait, which will make it easier for them to recommend the correct amount of support and cushioning in your shoe.

If you’re just a beginner and haven’t been trail running for a long time, you may be wondering if investing in new running shoes is worth it.

You should save yourself the trouble and just buy a pair!

Stick to Trails And Avoid Hard Surfaces

One of the ways running can be harmful is due to the repetitive pounding we subject our knees to when running on hard surfaces, leading to long-term injuries.

Other forms of cardio are much easier on our joints, such as swimming or cycling.

However, if trail running is a passion and you need to practice running to get the most carry over to the sport, you will want to avoid hard surfaces like roads, concrete, and pavements.

This is because hard surfaces do not lead to many variations in the loading of our knees, causing damage from stride to stride.

It's in your best interests to practice running mostly on trails, so your joints are not subjected to wear and tear, resulting in greater performance over time.

Choosing other terrains for running practice is the optimal way to improve your cardiovascular capacity while avoiding knee pain.

Many people suffering from knee pain often practice running on roads, which must be avoided or limited to not exacerbate any underlying problems.

You should set a goal where you cover a few kilometers of distance on softer terrain, making the activity sustainable in the long run and easier on your joints.

Most serious trail runners are constantly looking for ways to improve their running speed and increase their total running distance, which is easily achieved by practicing on trails.

Increase Your Running Distance Gradually

People are often of the mindset that they need to do as much as possible on any given day.

This mindset can quickly lead to burnout, as you cannot go hard every day.

What's more important is that you practice being consistent and do a fixed amount of running each day.

That way, you do not put too much strain on your knees too fast, leading to gradual progression while staying pain-free.

Even if you warm up effectively and wear the right running shoes, you will likely incur an injury if you do too much at once.

You must allow enough time for recovery between trail runs if you're covering long distances because your knees and muscles need to heal before they're ready to be used again.

Running causes a lot of wear and tear on our muscles, leading to systemic fatigue that can accumulate and lead to injuries in the long run.

Gradual progression or progressive overload is a principle that many athletes adhere to because it allows our bodies to adapt to new stressors and become stronger and more resilient for future sessions.

What to Do if You Injure Yourself While Trail Running?

Depending on the severity of your injury, you may have to take a few days off or continue your trail running sessions by lowering the intensity.

It’s best to keep the blood flowing around an injury because it improves the rate of recovery, which means you can walk or jog for a few days on a trail without exerting yourself too much.

If you’ve got a serious injury, you might want to incorporate stretching into your daily routine and invest in a foam roller to loosen up the muscles in your legs.

You may want to join the gym to work on fixing any muscular imbalances that might be contributing to a recurring injury.

Work on strengthening your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings by choosing compound exercises that allow you to build strength and endurance.

Static and dynamic stretching is important for warming up and loosening your hip flexors, abductor, and adductor muscles, which are used when running.

Some people may have tight hips that may be contributing to knee pain, and you can choose hip internal and external exercises to build strength in those ranges of motion.

Best Leg Exercises For Trail Running

Having a proper workout routine can really strengthen your legs and prevent any injuries or knee pain.

If you are at the gym, you can choose to go on the Stairmaster, which is an excellent piece of equipment that really targets your glutes, calves, and hamstrings.


People with overdeveloped quads and underdeveloped hamstrings need to address this muscular imbalance because it can contribute to knee pain and injuries.

Lunging is a great exercise for the lower body and can be done at home or the gym for best results.

You can begin with just your body weight and start off with five sets of 20 repetitions on each leg.

This is a pretty difficult exercise if you're not used to it and will likely leave your legs feeling sore the next day.

You can also do standing calf raises to build strength in your calves and go through a full range of motion to really loosen them up if they're tight.

If you wish to do more running-oriented exercises to strengthen your legs, you can find a hill in your area and do ten sets of runs up and down the hill with a 5-minute break in between sets.

Your next step is to create a workout plan.

If trail running is your only goal, you can get away with just doing two lower body workout sessions per week.

Incorporate squats, lunges, split jumps, and hamstring curls into your program, and you will quickly begin to see results.

You should also be eating enough protein daily to recover faster between sessions.

Final Verdict

Trail running is a very demanding sport that can cause knee pain if you don't wear the proper shoes or spend enough time warming up.

If you incur an injury, you should take some time off if it's severe or cover the same distance as you usually would on a trail run but with a lower intensity.

It is also worthwhile to shed some extra pounds to avoid overloading your knees with too much body weight.

The good news is that you can fix painful knees by adjusting your workout programs and incorporating post-workout stretches to loosen up any tight muscles that may be contributing to the problem.

Most trail runners encounter this problem at some point, and you should consider it a wake-up call to address any issues you may be neglecting.

By choosing softer surfaces for running and prioritizing gradual improvement in terms of running distance covered, you will avoid having painful knees.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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