Knee Pain affects every runner at some time. We tend to believe it is running that causes it, but the truth is that any activity can cause knee pain – skiers, soccer players and windsurfers all suffer from knee pain. As runners, we tend to notice it more, because we practice our sport pretty much on a daily basis.
I have been fortunate enough to avoid knee pain almost entirely, except for occasions when I have suffered from a knee injury. Towards the end of this post, I’ll reveal what I believe to be my secret, but meanwhile I would like to give you the benefit of a newsletter I received from my physical therapist, Dallas Williams. Here it is in its entirety:
“Dallas, sometimes when I am running sprints or even long distance I feel this overwhelming pain around my knee cap. What is this pain, and do you have any solutions to remedy my pain?”
“Common causes of runner’s knee are pain, overuse, muscle imbalance, and tight hamstrings, but there are several other factors. Initially, rest is a good treatment choice for runner’s knee. Following rest; the RICE principle (rest, ice, compression and elevation), gentle stretching to all the tight muscles around the knee, and a treatment program that incorporates strengthening of the muscles that stabilize the knee joint. Make sure you pay attention to what your body is saying and don’t get back to the track before your body is ready!”
Assuming that you are experiencing the pain as described, Dallas’ recommendations are perfect, but of course, if you have a serious knee injury, such as a meniscus or anterior cruciform ligament tear, more work may be required. Ruling out serious injuries, then, following these recommendations will rehabilitate the knee. The question remains how to avoid the problem in future.
The strengthening exercises help, especially if you continue them for the rest of your running life. The strength training program I use includes knee exercises, but many runners quit doing additional exercises soon after the pain has gone. Strength training and stretching are both essential to running health.
I also believe supplementation can help. Supplements can never compensate for weak muscles or tight hamstrings, but they can help our cartilages remain young and pliant. I attribute my own freedom from knee pain to taking a glucosamine supplement daily. Very occasionally, I will start to feel pain in my knees or other joints, and when that happens I switch to a different formula. You see, the problem with glucosamine is that it takes months to be really effective.
So, if you already have knee pain, here is the protocol I recommend, based on my own experience:
1. Take a fast acting supplement until the pain disappears. This will normally occur within a week or two. If it’s not gone after a month, you might want to seek a medical opinion: more drastic measures may be necessary. The product I use is Fast Acting Joint Formula.
2. Now take a good glucosamine-based supplement daily. Do not quit taking it because your knees aren’t hurting: this is a supplement that will benefit your joints for the rest of your life if you continue to take it. If you can’t tolerate it, or don’t like taking supplements all the time, go back to the previous step every time you have knee problems, but recognize that your running life (and your active life) may be limited due to your joints aging.
1. I have absolutely no medical training and nothing I say should ever be taken as medical advice: only your doctor can provide that. I take no responsibility at all for what might happen to you from following my advice, and you should assume I don’t know what I’m talking about. What works for me and thousands of other runners may not work for you.
2. There is a distinct possibility that I might one day get a small commission if you ever buy enough of the Joint Formula. I have never received one so far, but when I found out that the company I use has an affiliate program, I joined it in case one day someone bought some of their products on my recommendation.
3. There – now you know!
The Ileo-tibial band (ITB) runs from the hip area down the outside of the leg to the tibia (the shin bone). Many runners suffer from hip pain originating in the ITB. Women runners are especially prone to ITB pain, due to the fact that their hips are wider than men’s, leading to an inward tilt of the femur (thigh bone).
Sometimes you’ll feel this pain in the side of your thigh or your knee, rather than the hip, but the origin is the same. So if you find yourself suffering from knee pain, rather than hip pain, be aware that it may be your ITB that is the cause.
The ITB stretch is probably the most neglected stretch for most runners. Somehow, we figure we don’t need it, until finally our ITB starts to give us hip pain, telling us we needed to stretch all along! It’s a lot easier to prevent ITB pain by proper stretching than it is to cure it after it has occurred.
In my eBook on stretching (5 Essential Stretches for Runners) I choose stretches that can all be done standing up. My reason is that it is a good idea to stretch immediately after a run, and sometimes that means that you’ll be in a place where you really don’t want to lie on the ground. However, there are also many good stretches you can do lying down.
If you want to vary your stretches (always a good idea) or just learn more about stretching, you might want to buy a book on stretching. My recommendation is Stretching, by Bob Anderson. This book has sold over 3.5 million copies and been translated into 23 languages!
If you prefer to stay with my free eBook, here is some advice on avoiding hip pain with the ITB stretch.
I recommend that you stretch your ITB after every run. I used to believe that I could forget the ITB stretch after my easy runs, but soon found that was not a good idea. That band needs a stretch each time you run.
Here’s how to do it:
Position yourself a “comfortable” distance to the left of a wall or other support. What is “comfortable”? You’ll find out by trial and error, but it’s roughly arms length.
Reach out with your right arm to rest your hand at a point on the wall just above your hips. Again, you’ll find the right height with practice.
Now cross your left leg in front of your right, with the foot positioned roughly below your right shoulder.
Move your right foot as far to the left as it will go, and gently lower your right hip, supporting your weight on your left leg. You can place your left arm or hand on your left thigh to support yourself.
Ease into the stretch until you feel it starting to pull. You may feel it anywhere from your hip down to your shin! Then hold that position for 15 seconds or more.
Relax for a moment, and ease into a deeper stretch for another 15 seconds or more. This should feel really good if you’re doing it right.
Come out of the stretch carefully and repeat on the other side.
At first, this will seem like a strain, but as you progress it will get easier and more comfortable. The hardest part when you first try will be keeping your balance! The more often you do this stretch, the easier it will get and the deeper you will be able to go.
If you neglect the ITB stretch, you will most likely get hip pain or knee pain from an ITB strain sooner or later. When this happens, the temptation is to quit stretching, but that will only make it worse! You need to continue to stretch, being extra careful on the injured side, and stretching just to the point of pain but no further. (Normally, you never stretch to the point of pain, but after injury you need to do that to obtain any benefit. That’s another good reason to stretch early and often!)
Here’s to pain-free running!
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