Run Like a Girl: Female Guide to Preventing Running Knee Problems

Noyes Knee Institute Signature

Published On

Feb 1, 2019


Patient Education

One of the most popular sports among both men and women is running. It’s accessible, doesn’t require much equipment, and is inexpensive. However, male and female runners have different needs, and their bodies have subtle differences. Female runners can be prone to more frequent knee injuries, especially if they are not careful about training.

If you are getting into running, even if you have a background of activity in other areas, you need to do everything you can to protect your knees from harm. With the right approach, you can log mile after mile with strong, healthy knees.

Running Form

One of the reasons why female runners might be at greater risk for knee injuries when running is because they actually tend to run with different form than men. Men tend to run in a crouched position, with their chest and head bent slightly forward.

Women, on the other hand, tend to run more upright, with their legs extending further forward in the stride. This increases the tension on the knee.

When you start running, focus on your form. Think about how you naturally catch yourself as you trip on something and fall forward. Your upper body extends and angles forward as your legs catch your balance. Running should be similar – a constant forward motion where your legs catch the forward fall of the upper body.

One thing that can help running form is to start with midfoot or forefoot strike. If you are used to striking with your heel, you might find this change challenging, so take it slow. However, striking with the front of your foot helps to prevent overextending the leg when you are running fast.

You always want your landing to be aligned; your knees should be stacked below your hips, where you hit the ground with the knee slightly bent, knee over ankle. Your leg should never land on the ground with your leg fully extended out in front of your body. Drive your knee forward with each stride, and do not lead the stride with your foot.

Muscle Use

Another reason why female runners can experience more knee problems is that they may utilize different muscles when running. Running power can come from the glutes and hamstrings, but female runners may depend more on quadriceps power when running.

The overdependence on the front of the leg for power through your stride can result in greater stress and less stability in the knee. To use your muscles in a balanced way, focus on pushing off each stride as you run, which requires power from the back of the leg. Don’t shuffle your feet forward or rely only on your forward knee motion to get movement.

Not only will this technique help to reduce knee stress, but it can also make you a faster runner as you train.

Motion Changes

Women have an increased risk of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears because they have a steeper angle from the hip to the knee. They need to be aware that the increased hip width means that changing direction or stopping suddenly is more dangerous.

Avoid this common knee injury by gradually starting and stopping your motion on a run. When using a treadmill, reduce the speed slowly when you have finished running until you are at a walking pace. If you do sprints or change directions on your run, make a wide circle or use several steps to slow down before changing directions.

Weight Loss and Strengthening

Weight loss can also reduce the impact on your knees when you run. If you are just beginning and are overweight, talk to your doctor about a safe weight loss plan to gradually reduce your weight over time. Every pound you lose takes four pounds of pressure off your knees.

Finally, don’t just run. Use elastic bands and bodyweight exercises, such as partial squats, to improve your knee stability. Strengthen your hamstrings and glutes to balance out your quadriceps. If you have more questions about preventing and treating knee pain when you run, contact us at Noyes Knee Institute.