Knee pain is a common exercise complaint. The knee is an intricate joint, involving bones, menisci, muscles, tendons, and ligaments all supporting the joint. If there is damage or stress to any of these components, you may have achy knees. Plus, many physical activities—running, jumping, stretching, bending—can put a lot of strain, impact, or body weight directly on the knees, and in turn, cause pain while you work out. This is common among weekend warriors who work out intensely but inconsistently. You can also develop tendonitis over time if you’re regularly doing these motions.
Some causes of knee pain are a bit more serious, however. A common cause in young people, especially those who exercise or play high-impact sports, is patellofemoral pain syndrome. Also known as runner’s knee, this syndrome is characterized by pain in the soft tissues and bone around the kneecap. Treatment may involve rest and physical therapy to stabilize the knee joint. Or, it’s possible that the cartilage in your knees has suffered some wear and tear with use and age (osteoarthritis), in which case you may have to change up your workouts and incorporate more low-impact activities, like swimming, using the elliptical, or cycling, to lessen the pain.
Doing away with general knee pain from exercising could just be a matter of perfecting your form when you, say, run or do squats and lunges. A few sessions with a certified personal trainer or physical therapist can help you learn these basic movements so that you’re doing them with correct form every time and not putting yourself at risk of injury or long-term damage. Or you may need to do physical therapy to improve your knee stabilization. But because there are so many possible reasons for knee pain, your best bet is to talk to your doctor so you can get the specific help you need.
Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.