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How to Avoid Runner’s Knee and Maintain Your Running Stride

Integrating running into your workout regimen can yield numerous health benefits. Running not only aids in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia but also triggers the release of neurochemicals in the brain that enhance mood, boost self-esteem, and more. However, excessive running can sometimes lead to discomfort in the knees. Knee pain during or after running can stem from incorrect form, tense muscles, inadequate warm-up, and even wearing unsuitable footwear. The good news is that this pain doesn’t have to hinder you from continuing your running routine.

A Brief Overview of Runner’s Knee

Runner’s knee, scientifically known as chondromalacia patella, develops when the cartilage beneath the kneecap sustains damage. This condition is prevalent among runners since the affected cartilage acts as a natural shock absorber.

According to Becs Gentry, a Peloton Tread instructor and Nike Run ambassador, there are various reasons why symptoms such as knee pain, swelling, or sensations of popping or grinding may emerge.

However, runner’s knee serves as a blanket term encompassing any knee discomfort that runners might encounter, which doesn’t necessarily correlate with cartilage damage, according to physical therapist Kelly Starrett, who is also an author, professional athlete coach, mobility expert, and the founder of The Ready State. Starrett suggests viewing knee pain as your body’s way of indicating a need for modification in training, mobility, or preparedness.

Potential Causes of Runner’s Knee

Pinpointing the exact cause may prove challenging since knee pain signifies an overall lack of readiness for running.

“There are myriad reasons why your brain might start focusing on your knee all of a sudden,” Starrett explains. “You may have engaged in excessive activity followed by prolonged periods of inactivity, experienced high stress levels from work or personal life, or been undernourished, hampering your tissue quality and hindering your ability to handle insufficient warm-up. Multiple factors can contribute to this scenario.”

All these elements can result in diminished hip flexor mobility, tight muscles and tendons, delicate muscle tissue, and impediments in muscle connectivity. These physical manifestations can trigger knee pain, particularly among runners prone to tight quads, which are linked to the knee, along with the calves and hamstrings. When experiencing tightness and restricted motion, your body signals potential knee jeopardy to your brain, manifested as pain.

“Certain regions of that muscular system can certainly transfer pain sensations to the knee,” Starrett elucidates.

Other Common Triggers of Knee Pain While Running

Gentry highlights additional knee pain culprits, including poor dietary choices that accumulate toxins leading to inflammation, inadequate footwear support, and insufficient recovery time. “Allowing the body time to recuperate, adjust, and rejuvenate before the next run is crucial,” she emphasizes. “I frequently recommend massages and Epsom salt baths to alleviate muscle soreness, hastening recovery and calming the body.”

Regarding footwear, ensure you wear shoes tailored to your foot type and replace them every six months (or sooner if subjected to substantial mileage).

Excessive Strain from Sudden Intensity

While it’s thrilling to kickstart a new training program, scaling back initially allows your body to adapt to the regimen. “Ramping up mileage hastily, from zero to a considerable distance within a brief timeframe, might cause discomfort and irritation leading to runner’s knee,” Gentry advises.

To avert such issues, commence modestly. Seek guidance from a professional running coach or utilize an app like the Nike Run Club app if uncertain about a suitable starting point.

Refine Your Running Technique

Another potential cause of knee pain during running is flawed technique, notes Gentry. This challenge is common, especially when fatigued, underscoring the importance of mindful running practices.

Ensure your hips remain aligned, maintain a neutral head position, relax your shoulders, keep your chest open, and swing your arms back and forth rhythmically. Avoid excessive kicking backward to prevent undue strain on muscle groups like the hamstrings, which can pull on other muscles aggravating knee discomfort. Furthermore, land on your mid-foot, avoiding running with locked-out knees.

Four Approaches to Prevent Knee Pain Due to Running

While alleviating pain is important, adopting preventive measures can help avoid knee discomfort altogether. Starrett refers to this as “altering inputs to enhance local tissue health and reassure the brain of safe positioning.”

1. Engage in Isometric Exercises

“The primary objective is to signal to the brain that these knee positions during movement are secure,” Starrett explains. “A simple way to achieve this is through isometric exercises, involving muscle contractions without movement.” By mimicking running movements over time, your brain learns that these positions are “safe,” reducing the likelihood of future pain signals. This practice also aids in achieving full range of motion, potentially alleviating knee pain.

“This acclimatizes us to these positions, ultimately restoring our natural range,” Starrett elaborates.

Starrett recommends knee-friendly exercises such as lunges, progressing to elevated leg lunges while incorporating deep breathing, glute flexing, and maintaining the position.

“Take a large lunge stance with feet pointing forward, ensuring all toes touch the ground,” Starrett instructs. “Lower yourself until you feel a stretch in your rear leg, making sure you can still engage the glute of the rear leg. Hold this position for five to ten deep breaths, as if you cannot breathe in that pose, you haven’t yet mastered it. Running entails transition between positions while enduring intense breathing.”

2. Engage in Soft Tissue Mobilization (Foam Rolling)

Tissue tightness may contribute to knee pain, necessitating foam rolling, especially across the quads, focusing on areas where discomfort is felt upon roller compression or pressure point application.

“Restricted tissue tension might impact gait and how your brain perceives knee sensations. Any causative mechanism aside, laying on a roller on your quads should feel like pressure, not excruciating,” Starrett emphasizes.

3. Collaborate with a Running Coach

Contrary to popular belief, running isn’t merely about impulsively hitting the pavement; acquiring proper running technique from the outset can safeguard knee health in the long run. “If uncertain about correct running form, seek a coach to evaluate your running style and collaborate on strengthening it,” Gentry recommends.

4. Invest in High-Quality Running Shoes and Socks

Just like you wouldn’t wear inappropriate footwear for a formal event, choosing well-fitted running shoes and replacing them every six months (or sooner based on mileage) is crucial for preserving knee health.

Heading to swim practice sans a premium swimsuit would be a folly, wouldn’t it? Similarly, when it comes to running, you can’t overlook the significance of reliable equipment to ace the task. “Modern sneaker technology is incredibly advanced, and most running shoes are crafted to support the human body, so it’s wise to pay a visit to a specialized running shop for a gait analysis,” advises Gentry. “In most instances, they can guide you towards shoes that align with your natural running technique. Of course, make sure to opt for shoes that offer ample comfort.”

5. Maintain a training journal

To ensure you’re not pushing yourself too hard, especially when just commencing your running journey, consider maintaining a record of your workouts. “Initiating a training diary will enable you to clearly map out the days dedicated to running, training, and recovery,” states Gentry. “This way, you can strike a balance and avoid overexerting yourself early on.”

6. Enhance your muscle strength

Incorporating some strength training into your regimen can work wonders in safeguarding your body—and transforming you into a more adept runner. “Boosting your muscular strength is crucial. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding each joint play a vital role. Runners need to ensure that their entire body is well-tended and fortified for the rigors of running,” highlights Gentry. “Emphasizing bodyweight or weighted exercises and concentrating on both single-leg and dual-leg strength will help enhance your power and potentially minimize the risk of knee injuries.”

We understand that running with knee discomfort is far from ideal. However, by ensuring you’re equipped with the proper attire, focusing on your posture, engaging in cross-training (with strength training as your ally), emphasizing recovery, and consuming nourishing foods, the pain should dissipate swiftly! Also, never underestimate the effectiveness of ice massages and Epsom salt baths.

Is it advisable to continue running with runner’s knee?

Implement the aforementioned strategies, paying special attention to isometric exercises and soft tissue manipulation. If the pain persists, seeking medical advice is recommended.

Will runner’s knee disappear on its own?

By allowing yourself to recuperate adequately from the stress of running, along with following isometric exercises and soft tissue manipulation, runner’s knee should subside. If the problem persists, consulting your healthcare provider is the next step.

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