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Sore knees from working out: Pain During or After Exercise

Dr. Nathan Cafferky

Knee OsteoarthritisKnee Pain

Written By Nathan Cafferky MD FAAOS

Experiencing mild discomfort after a run or workout is common, but if your knee pain becomes persistent, it could be a sign of something more serious.

There are several potential causes of knee pain after exercise, from tendonitis to arthritis, and the type of treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

Let’s take a look at some of the differences between the most common sources of knee pain. 

Overuse Knee Injuries

Overuse injuries are prevalent among active people of all ages and generally occur when the knee joint is overloaded with repetitive stress without adequate time to rest and recover. 

Here are three overuse injuries that can cause knee pain after exercise:

Runner’s Knee

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, more commonly known as runner’s knee, is an overuse injury that affects runners and other athletes who put repeated stress on their knees. Commonly reported symptoms of runner’s knee include:

  • Pain in and around the kneecap

  • Pain that is aggravated by activities like running or climbing stairs 

  • Pain that is worse after sitting too long with bent knees

Jumper’s Knee

Jumper’s knee, or patellar tendonitis, causes inflammation in the patellar tendon, which connects the kneecap to the shinbone. This sports-related injury occurs from repeated stress on the knee joint, such as jumping on hard surfaces. People with jumper’s knee may experience:

  • Pain and tenderness below the kneecap

  • Pain that worsens with exercise

  • Pain when flexing or extending your leg

  • Swelling

Iliotibial Band (IT Band) Syndrome

Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is a condition that commonly affects athletes like runners and cyclists because of the repetitive bending and straightening of the knee. ITBS occurs when the iliotibial band, the tendon that runs from your hip to the shinbone, rubs against your knee bone and becomes inflamed. Symptoms may include: 

  • An aching pain along the outside of the knee that gets worse with exercise

  • Warmth and tenderness on the outside of the knee

  • Pain that radiates up to your hip

  • A clicking or popping sensation 

Treating Overuse Injuries

The good news is that in most cases of overuse injuries, conservative methods will help relieve the pain and get you back to your active favorite sports or activities. 

Treatments typically include:

  • Rest or activity modification

  • Ice

  • Elevation

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Shoe orthotics

  • Steroid injections

  • Stretching or strengthening exercise

  • Physical therapy 

Knee Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis to affect the knees. It occurs when the cartilage—the rubbery tissue that cushions the ends of your bones—begins to break down.

Age is the primary risk factor for knee arthritis. This condition generally occurs in people aged 50 years and older. However, younger people can develop this type of arthritis due to an injury. Other risk factors include obesity, genetics, and gender (women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men).

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Symptoms of osteoarthritis will usually build slowly rather than come on suddenly and may include:

  • Knee pain that gets worse during and after activity

  • Morning stiffness that gets better with movement

  • Swelling in the affected joint 

  • Cracking or grating sensations

  • Weakness or instability  

  • Reduced range of motion

Treating Osteoarthritis

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to cure osteoarthritis, but there are ways to slow its progress and relieve your symptoms.

Dr. Cafferky of Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery is the leading knee pain doctor in Colorado, specializing in osteoarthritis and adult joint reconstruction. He and his team are dedicated to getting you back to the activities you love and will recommend starting with conservative treatment methods whenever possible. 

These often include:

  • Activity modification 

  • Strengthening exercises

  • Physical therapy

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Steroid injections

  • Weight loss (if needed)

If conservative treatments are no longer effective, and your knee pain is impacting you daily, it might be time to consider knee replacement surgery. Learn more about knowing when to speak to an orthopaedic specialist a total knee replacement. 

Are You Experiencing Persistent Knee Pain After Exercise?

If you’re ready to get back to the activities you love without pain, contact Team Cafferky today! He and his team of knee specialists at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery will work with you to diagnose the cause of your knee pain and develop a treatment plan that’s right for your lifestyle.

Call (970) 476-7220 to make an appointment or request a consultation using our online form.

Make an Appointment

Knee OsteoarthritisKnee Pain

Nathan Cafferky MD FAAOS

Symptoms, Pain, Causes, and Treatment

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

  • What Are the Symptoms?
  • How Is It Diagnosed?
  • How Is It Treated?
  • When Will My Knee Feel Better?
  • How Can I Prevent Runner’s Knee?

First, it isn’t just for runners. Also, it isn’t really a specific injury. Runner’s knee is a broad term used to describe the pain you feel if you have one of several knee problems. You might hear a doctor call it patellofemoral pain syndrome.

Several things can bring it on:

  • Overuse. Bending your knee again and again or doing a lot of high-stress exercises, like lunges and plyometrics (training that uses the way your muscles lengthen and shorten to boost their power), can irritate tissues in and around your kneecap.
  • A direct hit to the knee, like from a fall or blow
  • Your bones aren’t lined up (your doctor will call this malalignment). If any of the bones from your hips to your ankles are out of their correct position, including the kneecap, that can put too much pressure on certain spots. Then your kneecap won’t move smoothly through its groove, which can cause pain.
  • Problems with your feet, like hypermobile feet (when the joints in and around them move more than they should), fallen arches (flat feet), or overpronation (which means your foot rolls down and inward when you step). These often change the way you walk, which can lead to knee pain.
  • Weak or unbalanced thigh muscles. The quadriceps, those big muscles in the front of your thigh, keep your kneecap in place when you bend or stretch the joint. If they’re weak or tight, your kneecap may not stay in the right spot.
  • Chondromalacia patella, a condition in which the cartilage under your kneecap breaks down


The main thing is pain. You might notice it:

  • Usually in front of your kneecap, though it could be around or behind it
  • When you bend your knee to walk, squat, kneel, run, or even get up from a chair
  • Getting worse when you walk downstairs or downhill

The area around your knee could swell, or you might hear popping or have a grinding feeling in the knee.

The doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. They might also do tests that can give them a closer look inside your joint, like X-rays.

For most people, runner’s knee gets better on its own with time and treatments to address the problem that’s causing your pain. To help relieve your pain and speed recovery, you can:

  • Rest your knee. As much as possible, try to avoid things that make it hurt worse, like running, squatting, lunging, or sitting and standing for long periods of time.
  • Ice your knee to ease pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days, or until the pain is gone.
  • Wrap your knee. Use an elastic bandage, patellar straps, or sleeves to give it extra support.
  • Elevate your leg on a pillow when you sit or lie down.
  • Take NSAIDs, if needed, like ibuprofen or naproxen. These drugs help with pain and swelling. But they can have side effects, like a higher risk of bleeding and ulcers. Use as directed on the label, unless your doctor says otherwise.
  • Do stretching and strengthening exercises, especially for your quadriceps muscles. Your doctor can recommend a physical therapist to teach you what to do.
  • Try arch supports or orthotics for your shoes. They may help with the position of your feet. You can buy them at the store or get them custom-made.
  • If you try these techniques and your knee still hurts, ask your doctor if you need to see a specialist, like an orthopedic surgeon. It’s rare, but you may need surgery for severe cases of runner’s knee. An orthopedic surgeon can remove or replace damaged cartilage and, in extreme cases, correct the position of your kneecap to send stress through the joint more evenly.


People heal at different rates. Your recovery time depends on your body and your injury.

While you get better, you need to take it easy on your knee. That doesn’t mean you have to give up exercise. Just try something new that won’t hurt your joint. If you’re a jogger, swim laps in a pool instead.

Whatever you do, don’t rush things. If you try to get back to your workouts before you’re healed, you could damage the joint for good. Don’t return to your old level of physical activity until:

  • You can fully bend and straighten your knee without pain.
  • You feel no pain in your knee when you walk, jog, sprint, or jump.
  • Your knee is as strong as your uninjured knee.



  • Keep your thigh muscles strong and limber with regular exercise.
  • Use shoe inserts if you have problems that may lead to runner’s knee.
  • Make sure your shoes have enough support.
  • Try not to run on hard surfaces, like concrete.
  • Stay in shape and keep a healthy weight.
  • Warm up before you work out.
  • Don’t make sudden workout changes like adding squats or lunges. Add intense moves slowly.
  • Ask your doctor if you should see a physical therapist.
  • If your doctor or physical therapist suggests it. Try a knee brace when you work out.
  • Wear quality running shoes.
  • Get a new pair of running shoes once yours lose their shape or the sole becomes worn or irregular.


Top Picks

Top 4 errors that can cause

Make sure you follow these important safety rules.



Power training

leg workout

Cottonbro / Pexels

Knee pain is quite common and can detract from training and stop progress. Avoid these four common workout mistakes to keep your knees from hurting.

Do not self-medicate! In our articles, we collect the latest scientific data and the opinions of authoritative health experts. But remember: only a doctor can diagnose and prescribe treatment.

1. Knees inwards

Poor knee alignment is one of the most common training mistakes that can lead to knee pain. When you do exercises such as squats or lunges, your knee should go over the top of your shoes, behind your toes

How to fix

Keep your knees in line with your second and third toes when doing any exercise that involves knuckle flexion. Do the exercises in front of a mirror to make sure you are in the correct position.


You are not ready for that much weight

Lifting too much weight before you accustom your body to such a load is not only bad for your knees, but for the whole body. Adding excessive resistance to an exercise can cause pain or injury to muscles, joints, and connective tissue. And your knees bear the brunt of this overload.

How to fix

Most pros recommend training with a steady, gradual increase in resistance (progressive overload).


3. You skip unilateral exercises

Muscle imbalance and asymmetry are a common result of everyday life, whether you carry your bag on one arm every day or play tennis several days a week. One side of your body is stronger than the other.

If you only do bi-leg exercises (eg squats) instead of single-leg exercises (eg Bulgarian split squats), you may start to overuse your strong half. Over time, this can lead to pain and stiffness in the knees, as well as pain or tenderness in the hips, hamstrings, and buttocks.

How to Fix

Include at least one or two single leg exercises in all of your lower body workouts. Single leg deadlifts, single leg glute bridges, and single leg hip thrusts are just a few examples worth trying.

4. You’re wearing the wrong shoes

Your shoes play a bigger role in your workout safety than you think. While the wrong shoes do not usually cause pain, they can increase the likelihood of poor technique and incorrect knee movement, which can lead to joint strain and injury.

How to fix

Choose a relatively stiff “training” shoe. Or, if you’re training in a relatively private setting, you can do your strength training barefoot.

Please note!

If you experience sharp pain in your knee while exercising, stop what you are doing and consult your physician before returning to exercising.

Joint pain in the knee after exercise: causes

Strength training, cardio, jogging, cycling – all these activities are good for health, keep the body in good shape, increase endurance. But with such intense training, the joints of the lower extremities experience excessive stress, which leads to painful sensations.

General information

Joint pain after exercising in the gym can appear in both beginners and professional athletes. The reasons may be related to the wrong approach to the exercise process, or indicate the development of pathological processes in bone and joint tissue. What to do if your knees hurt after exercise? How dangerous is this discomfort? Read the article.

Causes of discomfort

A slight discomfort in the muscles after a workout is normal, indicating that the loads were moderate. Muscles just need time to recover. But if the pain is severe, it may be a sign of an injury or disease, so it should not be ignored.

Joint pain after exercise – the main causes:

  • excessively intense training;
  • non-compliance with the rules of technique for performing exercises;
  • a sharp increase in working weights;
  • lack of a full-fledged warm-up, which is necessary to warm up the muscles, and joint gymnastics;
  • a short break between classes – the functions of muscles, ligaments and joints do not have time to recover in full.

A variant of the norm is considered to be mild, short-term pain that occurs due to an increased concentration of lactic acid in muscle fibers. It is usually excreted from the body within a few hours, but the metabolic rate depends on the training of the muscles of the person. Stretching exercises, massage, and a short rest will help speed up the process.

Dull, aching, short-term pain that covers the entire knee often occurs after lifting heavy weights in training. The appearance of discomfort is associated with temporary compression of the knee joint. Unpleasant sensations intensify as collagen production decreases.

Important! With age, the elasticity of the connecting structures in the joint decreases, their strength decreases. Therefore, it is necessary to adjust the intensity of the loads in order to avoid injury to the hyaline cartilage. In the future, this can lead to the development of gonarthrosis.

Pathological causes

Intense, growing pain after or during workouts in the gym can be a sign of various pathologies.

Why knees hurt after a workout – a list of common diseases:

  1. Meniscus injury. In case of improper distribution of loads, the lower leg often turns or turns unsuccessfully. This is accompanied by a sharp, acute pain, extensive swelling, discomfort increases with movement and palpation.
  2. Dislocation of the patella. A fall on the knee often results in dislocation of the patella. The pain is sharp, but usually passes quickly. Without proper treatment, habitual dislocation of the knee joint often develops.
  3. Chondromalacia of the patella. Pathology in which the cartilage on the back of the patella is destroyed. The knee constantly hurts during exertion, the discomfort disappears only after a long rest. To slow down the degenerative-dystrophic process, it is urgent to consult a doctor.
  4. Gonarthrosis. The disease often occurs in weightlifters due to constant microtrauma of hyaline cartilage. The main symptom is aching pain under the knee at the back, which increases with flexion and extension of the knee.
  5. Arthrosis, arthritis of the knee joint. Diseases are accompanied by crunching during movements, impaired mobility and stiffness, prolonged pain of varying degrees of intensity.
  6. Osgood-Schlatter disease. Destruction of the tuberosity and nucleus of the tibia of aseptic origin. The problem occurs in 20% of adolescents who are actively involved in sports.
  7. Osteoarthritis. Recurrent pathology, in which the cartilage tissue is gradually destroyed, the edges of the bone plates grow. During movement, compression of the nerve roots occurs, injury to soft tissues, and severe pain appears.
  8. Osteochondritis dissecans. Aseptic necrosis in which a small piece of cartilage separates from the bone and moves into the joint cavity.

If the joints hurt after training, dancing, fitness, this may be due to past injuries. Often, during the healing process, areas of fibrous tissue are formed, which prevents the normal movement of the joint.

Knee pain after exercise can be a sign of various joint diseases. Our doctors can help you interpret symptoms remotely or over the phone and advise you on any questions about joint health.

Prohibited sports

Some exercises, if performed incorrectly, can cause pain in the knees, the development of other negative consequences.

List of the most dangerous exercises for the knee joints:



Squats on one leg

If performed incorrectly, the load is distributed, the spine, intervertebral discs, and knee joint suffer

Plyometrics – training with a lot of jumps

A powerful anaerobic exercise, in which there is a serious load on the knee and ankle joints, spine, heart. Injuries often occur during an unsuccessful fall, landing

Barbell lunges

With active inclinations, improperly selected weight, the spine and limbs suffer from overloads


After the first lessons, ligaments and knees hurt in almost all beginners. The strength and elasticity of the ligaments gradually increase, the discomfort disappears. Falls are possible, with subsequent damage to the knees

Walking and cycling are considered no less dangerous. During these exercises, the joints move monotonously, which often leads to their damage. This includes hockey, volleyball, football.

Pay attention! Pain in the knees often occurs in tennis players, runners, dancers, weightlifters. When doing these sports, the knee joints are often injured, the consequences can appear even after a few years.

How to get rid of knee pain

Often people, if the joints begin to hurt after physical exertion, use folk remedies. Unconventional methods will help to stop the pain, but do not eliminate the cause of its occurrence. This leads to the development of degenerative processes in the articular and cartilaginous tissues, which are quite difficult to correct and eliminate.

Immediately after the injury, it is forbidden to use warming ointments and warming compresses. Such methods can be used only after 3-5 days to accelerate tissue regeneration.

If the pain is severe, frequent and prolonged, the knee begins to swell, it is necessary to consult a doctor. X-rays, arthroscopy, CT and MRI are prescribed to identify the causes of discomfort.

If your knees hurt, what can be treated:

  1. As a first aid, you can use ointments with a cooling effect based on menthol, camphor, essential oils.
  2. If the injury is accompanied by the appearance of a hematoma, the affected area on the first day should be treated with agents that contain heparin.
  3. Ointments and gels from the group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs based on diclofenac will help eliminate pain.

For the treatment of sports injuries, MBST therapy is used – an advanced method of nuclear magnetic resonance technology. The procedure activates tissue regeneration, metabolism in the damaged area due to targeted energy supply. This allows you to significantly reduce the rehabilitation period.

MBST therapy helps to get rid of not only unpleasant symptoms, but also to eliminate the cause of pain. The technique is used in the treatment of arthritis, arthrosis to improve the function and mobility of the diseased joint.

Treatment of knee pain must begin with the correction of the underlying disease that led to its occurrence. Ancillary treatment is also prescribed to reduce pain. Our doctors remotely check appointments and advise on the main methods of therapy if the treatment does not help.

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We remove lactic acid

If the knee pain in an adult or a child is not caused by pathological causes, it is necessary to stroke the knee a little, and then rub it intensively. Due to the improvement of blood circulation, the spasm passes, the process of excretion of lactic acid is accelerated.

How to relieve knee pain with exercise:

  1. Alternately rise on the toes of the right and left legs.
  2. Vigorously shake your feet.
  3. Perform heel rolls.
  4. Spread your legs wide and bend a little, sway a little from side to side. Make shallow lunges on the right and left legs.
  5. In a standing position, alternately wind your legs back, pull your foot to the buttocks with your hands.

Repeat exercises 20-30 times, perform 2-3 sets.

Important! To reduce the risk of injury, you must use special bandages that are sold in pharmacies. They are comfortable, do not restrict movement, while fixing the joint well.


How to recognize dangerous knee pain after a workout?


The injury is evidenced by aching pain in the knee, which intensifies even with minor loads.