Skip to Content
November 1, 2023

Helping Young Athletes with Knee Pain

ThedaCare Sports Medicine Physician Supports Holistic Approach to Healing & Injury Prevention

Knee pain is a common concern among teen athletes. Adolescent anterior knee pain, often referred to as runner’s knee, is prevalent among students in running sports.

“Adolescents are in a stage of rapid growth and development, which can result in muscle imbalances and biomechanical changes,” said David Hirschi, M.D., a sports medicine physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care. “These changes, combined with the repetitive stress of activities like running as well as jumping and sudden changes in direction, can lead to increased pressure on the knee joint, resulting in pain and discomfort.”

The discomfort can be debilitating and affect the athlete’s performance and overall well-being. With proper awareness and preventive measures, teens can minimize their risk.

Detailing the “Why” of Runner’s Knee in Teens

Dr. Hirschi detailed why teens are more susceptible to adolescent anterior knee pain, including:

  • Overuse and Poor Training Habits: Teens often push themselves too hard to reach their athletic goals. Overtraining and inadequate rest can lead to excessive strain on the knee joint, contributing to runner’s knee.
  • Muscle Imbalances: Growing at different rates, the muscles in a teenager’s body may develop unevenly. This can lead to imbalances around the knee joint, causing improper tracking of the patella (kneecap) and subsequent pain.
  • Biomechanical Factors: Natural variations in a teenager’s biomechanics, such as foot pronation (inward rolling) or poor alignment of the lower limbs, can increase the risk of developing runner’s knee.
  • Inadequate Footwear: Wearing improper or worn-out footwear while participating in sports can exacerbate knee pain by failing to provide the necessary support and cushioning.

Preventing Injury & Minimizing Knee Pain

To prevent and manage runner’s knee, Dr. Hirschi emphasized the importance of a comprehensive approach that combines proper training, rest, and self-care.

Here are seven steps he suggests.

  • Gradual Progression: Teens should follow a gradual training progression to avoid overuse injuries. Increase the intensity, duration, and frequency of workouts gradually. This allows the body to adapt to the demands of the sport.
  • Cross-Training: Encourage teens to diversify their training routines by incorporating activities like swimming, cycling, or strength training. This helps prevent overuse of specific muscle groups.
  • Flexibility and Strengthening: Proper flexibility and strength training are crucial. Focus on exercises that target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip muscles to improve the stability of the knee joint.
  • Warm-Up and Cool-Down: Before and after workouts, teenagers should perform proper warm-up and cool-down routines. Dynamic stretching and foam rolling can help prepare the muscles for activity and reduce post-exercise soreness.
  • Rest and Recovery: Rest days are just as important as training days. Adequate rest allows your body to repair and adapt. Prioritize rest and recovery in their training schedule.
  • Footwear Matters: Ensure the athlete has appropriate footwear for their sport. Consult with a sports specialist or physical therapist to determine the right type of shoe and any necessary support.
  • Listen to the Body: Teens should pay attention to any early signs of knee pain. Ignoring discomfort can lead to more serious injuries. If knee pain persists, consult a sports medicine specialist for evaluation and guidance.

Preventing knee pain in teens requires a holistic approach.

“It’s crucial for parents, coaches, and young athletes themselves to understand the causes of runner’s knee and take proactive steps to prevent it,” Dr. Hirschi added. “By following these guidelines and consulting sports medicine professionals, teenagers can not only minimize their risk of knee pain but also maximize their athletic potential and long-term well-being.”

ThedaCare Medical Center-Orthopedic, Spine and Pain is prepared to help athletes who might experience orthopedic issues. At the first visit, a person will be seen by a medical specialist, have any needed imaging taken and receive an initial treatment. Then, a provider will arrange for follow-up care as needed, which may include pain management, physical therapy, a surgery consultation, or other therapies.

The Orthopedic Walk-in Care, located at 2400 E. Capitol Drive, Appleton, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon. Save time ahead of your visit with “I’m On My Way.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.