Knee pain is a common complaint in runners. But, I also see it in cyclists, hikers, dancers, gymnasts and more. No one is immune to knee pain. And very often I find the problem is not with the knee itself, but with the musculature surrounding it.
Some of the largest, longest and strongest muscles can be found in the thigh. On the front, we have 4 muscles which are categorized together as the quadriceps group. One starts on the pelvis (rectus femoris) and the other three (vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis) start on the femur (thigh bone). They all come together to utilize the patella (knee cap) and the patellar tendon before they insert on the front of the tibia (leg bone).
Your thigh muscles are huge players in your ability to sit, stand, walk, run, squat and lunge. They support the majority of your body weight. If you do any of those movements with body mechanics that are even a little bit incorrect (which is most of us), you could be putting an exceptional amount of strain on your knee. Do that repeatedly for 26.2 miles (a marathon) or after years of squatting in the gym and you've got yourself a repetitive stress injury. If you carry around more body weight than your frame needs, it's even more strain on your knees.
So, beyond working to improve your mechanics and maintaining proper body weight, what can you do to prevent or reduce knee pain? Keeping your quadriceps muscles supple will make a huge difference. You can do the basic quad stretch as shown in the picture below. Holding this stretch for 5 deep breaths three times per day is usually enough to see an improvement. You could also invest in a foam roller or rolling pin to manually roll out the muscles just above and on the sides of your knees. Just like rolling cookie dough! Spend about one minute per side every day or two. The goal is to break up the tissue here so it can rebuild with a little more mobility so it needs time between rolling sessions to heal. This is the same reason we wouldn't get massaged or workout every day.
I have been doing this myself and noticing a drastic improvement. I've been dealing with knee pain in both knees for a few years now (after many years of competitively running). Of course, I'm my own worst patient. I explain knee pain to my patients every day! Why did I think that my knee pain would be any different?! If I spend 30 seconds to 1 minute rolling out my legs before I run or workout, I notice the difference immediately. I should have known this as I am a very "quad dominant" athlete. I have a tendency of using my quadriceps muscles more than my other major muscle groups.
Here is a video I made for knee pain: