STOP THE PAIN: HEAL AND PREVENT RUNNER'S KNEE
Heifers. We’ve almost all be there. Nothing can sideline a training program like pain, and knee pain is the worst. I’ve hobbled through a few runs wondering if knee pain was going to be the end of my running life. I’ve asked myself, more than once, if I have to make a choice between running in pain or not running at all.
Running is a huge part of my life. It’s not just physical exercise. It’s a mental break from daily life, from everything. It’s a way to process all that other junk that’s running around in my brain, those multiple hamster wheels I don’t have much control over.
Running is also a huge part of my social life. Always efficient, I like to kill two birds with one stone, so I run with my friends and catch up on neighborhood gossip (I mean, probing social issues).
So….giving up running, for me, would be much more than finding a new way to keep the scale happy.
Since I don’t want to run in pain, and since I’m guessing you don’t want to run in pain either….here are the what, why and how of stopping knee pain through strength training.
WHAT Is All This Knee Pain?
First of all, probably the biggest issue when it comes to knee pain and running is what a lot of us know as ‘runner’s knee.’ The official name for this is chondromalacia patellae or patellafemoral pain syndrome. Yeah. Runner’s knee. Turns out there are over 3 million cases reported each year in just the US. That's more than the number of Oreos I ate last year alone. So I got that going for me.
The main symptom, as so many of us know, is pain. It can be in front of the knee cap, behind it or around it. The pain gets worse when you, well, use your knees: squatting, jumping, walking up stairs, etc. Even getting up from a chair can be painful. The knee can also swell, and you might even hear popping or feel grinding inside the knee joint. I certainly do.
What we’re usually told to do to relieve runner’s knee is to rest. We can also use ice, wrap our knee, elevate it and take Motrin or some other pain reliever. You all know the drill.
But wait…there’s more! Seriously, y'all, there is more that we can do to keep our knees healthy and pain free other than resting, wrapping, icing and taking pills.
Strength training actually plays a huge part in keeping our knees healthy.
WHY Does Strength Training Heal and Prevent Runner’s Knee?
First of all, it turns out knee pain isn’t just about the knee. Runner’s knee is inflammation of the cartilage behind the knee, but that is affected by other parts of our bodies that are actually weak. According to this article in Runner’s World, “There’s increasing consensus among sports medicine professionals that many people with runner’s knee have a few common biomechanical problems.”
Yep. Turns out that weak hips and glutes make instability an issue all the way through the leg. Weak quads can make it hard for the kneecap to track properly, and tight hamstrings actually shift the runner’s impact to the knees, putting extra pressure where it definitely doesn’t need to be.
Strengthening the muscles around the knee actually help keep the knee healthy and help eliminate extra stress on the knee.
HOW Do We Use Strength Training to Prevent and Heal Runner’s Knee?
First things first, it’s not a bad idea to consult a professional here. I am a big believer in finding the best possible teachers for all parts of life, and something as important as running is at the top of my list.
I work with a trainer, who helps me exercise with good form, at my best possible level and on a regular schedule. If you can afford to do that, I can’t give enough shout outs and halleluiahs about working with a pro. Even if you have a friend who’s a trainer or can swing a sweet deal in exchange for your own talents (all legal and legit, Heifers), it’s a great way to get a solid foundation in strength training, especially for something as specific as knee health.
Also, physical therapists are obviously the pros when it comes to recovering from an injury or existing pain. They can help create not just a plan to heal pain but also to prevent it in the future.
All that said, there is a TON of information about strength training online for anyone who isn’t working with a trainer. Here are 5 links from around the web to get started with a conditioning/strengthening program to keep your knees healthy and pain-free:
1. Runner’s World recommends this video as a starting point for a good strengthening program.
2. Harvard Medical School has a great introductory article about exercise for stronger knees and hips. I might reconsider water therapy after this read.
3. Health.com recommends these 10 exercises for healthy knees, and they don’t just include typical strengthening exercises but stretches too.
4. Women’s Health magazine has this workout you can ‘crush’ even if you have bad knees….or want to strengthen them!
5. Finally, if you want to get super legit, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons developed this knee conditioning program.
Knee pain doesn’t have to derail a running plan. I have struggled with all kinds of pain throughout my almost five years of running. I know how bad it sucks and how debilitating it is when all we want to do is get outside, move our bodies and feel better.
I really believe, from experience and from all of the research, that adding a strengthening routine to a running program will keep us running longer, with fewer aches and pains.