Hey, remember that time I totally wrote this post all about how I got rid of my knee pain during running and came off like a total expert and know-it-all?
Well I did something silly. I signed up for a half marathon. In October. That’s like two minutes from now–and the most I’ve ever run in my entire life in one go was 10 km. Now like any good American, I am practically allergic to the metric system, but somehow during a booze-soaked college physics career (not really) I was able to absorb the equivalency of 1610 meters = 1 mile. Now, by doing some simple math, we can find out what fraction of a half marathon I’ve run:
[ 1 mile | 1000 meters | 10 km ]
[ 1610 meters | 1 km | 1 ] / 13.1 miles
= 6.2 miles / 13.1 miles
Sorry, I bet you thought there’d be no math on this blog.
As you see, I need to step up the training a bit. So I’ve been running not only more often than usual, but also longer duration and distances. As in the beginning, new and increased stresses on the body produce–you guessed it–joint pain. This time, however, it’s my dainty lady ankles.
That was my really long-winded way of saying that I found some cool ankle-strengthening exercises to add to my routine. The great thing about these is that minimal equipment is required–no bosu ball, just resistance bands!
Okay, to start off, you probably have to actually be a runner to claim to have runner’s knee. A few months ago, if we go with the definition of runner as “one who runs,” I was not a runner. I was an avid walker, especially from my car to my intended destination. I was really good at that. But not so much the running.
That’s why when I did get off my desk chair/couch/driver’s seat to run a bit, I was pretty quick to aggravate some older injuries from the bygone days of 8th grade track and 10th grade marching band (it was an intense marching season). Sore muscles I can handle, but aching joints? No thank you. Every step hurt and I was worried to run too much in case I got shin splits or literally ran my legs off my body. I was hoping that the pain would lessen with more time on the path, but sometimes hope is an asshole.
All of the following tips are intended to help treat or relieve the pain of runner’s knee, but it would be ideal to avoid sustaining running injuries to begin with. Let’s do a quick rundown of some of the common causes of knee pain from running:
Your form sucks
You’re wearing the wrong shoes
You’re doing too much too soon
So. Running form. I could and probably should write an entire post devoted to running form. Instead, LOOK AT THIS PICTURE!
Note: there are two opinions (at least) about foot strike (i.e., what part of your foot hits the ground first). The first school of thought favors the heel strike with the foot rolling down from heel to toe. This is the form I was taught in P.E., which might actually be why I hate it so, so much.
My favorite style is the “minimus” approach, illustrated in the picture at right. This natural style of running, which is meant to emulate running barefoot, favors a mid-foot strike, followed by a push-off with your toes. Although my calves were sore after every single run for the first few months, the shorter strides and minimal impact of the “minimus” gait tricks me into feeling like a nimble and lithe gazelle–unlike the more traditional heel-strike form that has me plodding along like a three-legged donkey.
OMG shoes. Running is a relatively equipment-free sport BUT it’s worth it to invest in a good pair of running shoes. Going along with my minimus style, I bought myself some kick-ass minimus shoes. These trail running shoes are the product of a partnership between New Balance and Vibram (of the FiveFingers Vibrams) and I love them almost more than I have ever loved a pair of shoes–except the ruby slippers I got for Christmas in 1989.
I like them because they’re light and flexible and they breathe, which means 1) no socks required and 2) only minimally smelly feet. Oh my god, is that what the minimus is referring to?!
I think it’s important to mention that you should really listen to your body. There’s running through discomfort and there’s being reckless. My absolute, prime, super-double-plus-good number 1 fitness rule is: try to straddle the line between challenging yourself and being able to do the same thing the next day. This is obviously just my opinion, but if your workout has you hobbling around in pain and soreness the next day, you’re essentially out of commission until you can squat over the toilet again without wanting to die. You’re not accomplishing much. Challenge yourself but don’t incapacitate yourself! This rule is more of a guideline than anything, and rest days are important. Also, I don’t literally mean that you do the same workout the next day, just that you’re able to do something.
When I first started running, I knew my knees and lungs could keep going, but knee pain would gradually become hip pain as the miles piled on, and I wanted to be able to run the next day, so I backed off. Unlike my brief spurts of running interest in the past, I’ve kept up with it this time, and I’m convinced that, counterintuitively, self-restraint is a big reason why.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Here are four things I did to alleviate my misery and suffering, in no particular order. The Scientific Method dictates that I should have isolated each of these approaches to determine which indeed was effective, but then this post would be 75% shorter and where’s the fun in that?
And without further ado, this is how I got rid of my runner’s knee:
1. My former roommate, a physical therapist, informed me that the underlying cause of knee pain in a lot of young women and adolescents is down to our old friend, puberty. Apparently as we gals become young ladies, our changing bodies succeed in screwing us over in multiple ways, one of them being that our hips get wider in preparation for pushing out some babies. Wider hips can throw our legs out of alignment, which puts added strain on our lady knees. Fun times.
But there’s a solution! Bring those hips back from the Dark side with some awesome hip stretches. More limber hip flexors can help bring your body back into alignment, relieving ailments associated with runner’s knee, shin splits, and IT band syndrome–the Evil Running Injury Trifecta. Add these to your day, even if you’re not running, but especially after you run. Your knees won’t magically become strong like steel overnight, but strengthening your hips and glutes will be a benefit in the long run. Here’s a video if you’re exercise diagram challenged like myself.
2. In the same vein as stretching out your hips, you can also build up the stabilizing muscles around your knees. This, I think, more than anything else, has helped banish my knee pain.
Get yourself one of theeeese bosu balls:
And do some lunges, squats, or even arm work like shoulder presses (like the dude below) or lateral raises. (You’ve probably had the whole “knees over ankles” thing hammered into your skull your whole life, but like the flight attendants who demonstrate how to bu
ckle a seatbelt, let me just say that anytime you do an exercise or stretch where you bend your knees (like a lunge or squat), look down at your feet and make sure that your knees aren’t sticking out past your ankles. If they are, try opening your stance a bit to avoid hyperextension. See the handy graphic.)
The easier bosu option is to stand on the round part; the more challenging option is to stand on the flat part.
As you complete your exercises, you are constantly using entire muscles groups, including those around your knees, to stabilize the bosu ball’s wobble. I love and hate the bosu ball because my muscles involuntarily twitch the entire time, making me look like this awesome piece of contemporary art that I’ll probably get sued over for copyright infringement or something:
Check out these other torturous bosu ball exercises!
3. Another cause of joint pain is inflammation. Basically, there’s a fluid-filled sac inside the knee joint that absorbs the shock of your foot impacting the ground and protects the knee’s soft tissue from coming into contact with the bone. When you first start pounding the pavement, the repetitive motion creates friction between the sac and the bone, causing inflammation and swelling and horrible. Gross. Who’s hungry!?
There are a lot of general OTC and drugstore anti-inflammatories out there, but beware of their addictive powersssss!
My favorite non-addictive supplement is the amazing serrapeptase. It is like magic. And also, take two once a day after your workout. It’s a bit like ibuprofen in that you’re meant to just keep it in your system, rather than taking it on an as needed basis, but doesn’t have ibuprofen’s negative side effects.
4. I also tried these brace things for a while, but I didn’t really notice any change… Maybe they’ll work better for you, or maybe I didn’t use them long enough. Essentially, you’re meant to strap them below your kneecap so that it provides support to the knee, sort of like a brace.
So I hope those four tips were helpful. If you can think of any other preventive measures or remedies, feel free to share. Remember that I am not a doctor and knee pain is nothing to bat an eye about. If you suspect that stretching, anti-inflammatories, or avoiding overtraining will not help your old man/lady knees, see a specialist!