Running on hard surfaces means that for every stride the full body weight is pounding onto the ground, putting massive strain on the leg joints and muscles.
The more intensive the training becomes then there is greater risk of the joints in particular becoming injured. Knee joints are very susceptible to wear and tear during periods of constant running, and despite adequate precautionary measures, knee pain can eventually develop into a serious running injury.
Some athletes are more prone to running knee injury than others just by the very nature of their joint structure. Climbing the stairs or walking down can be a very painful exercise at times which is usually only curable by a lengthy spell of rest. But why do some people suffer the curse of running knee pain, while others happily pound the streets without any discomfort.
There are several possible reasons for knee problem occurring…
- Some runners do not like taking rest days and the daily training session can lead to constant bending of the knee resulting in stretched nerves and tendons.
- The inherent bone structure of the leg may not be conducive to high mileage running.
- With flat feet, each running step causes greater pressure on the knee tendons.
- A weakness in the thigh muscles leads to the knees absorbing more of the impact of each running stride.
- A previous blow to the knee in childhood days may have caused some weakening.
- Fast downhill running which puts greater pressure on the thighs and knees.
The only problem for runners who do experience knee discomfort is that there are several different types of injury to this joint which makes diagnosis and treatment that much more difficult.
Knee pain can exist in many forms ranging from pain in the kneecap to swelling and is more likely to occur when bending the leg. Grinding or popping sensations when walking on a flat surface can also be source of worry. For runners, there is the problem of whether to train through a knee injury or bow to the inevitable and take a rest. Like most joint injuries, constant overuse will only exacerbate the problem and so advice from an expert or a period of recuperation is the most likely cure.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has suggested several means by which ‘runners knee’ can be prevented and so reducing the need for potentially lengthy and expensive cures. Reducing weight helps to ease the pressure on the knee, although weight loss may arise during training as a direct result of running. They also recommend build up running speed gradually so that the knees become used to the activity, and soft grassy surfaces are ideal as a means of a cushioning effect. Stretching and good quality shoes which have extra built in stability are also offered as general advice.
Despite all this advice, there will always be runners who will incur a knee injury and with this comes the frustrations of curing the problem. The solution might be to rest which may impact upon the individual training program. If a period of rest is the prescribed solution, once the injury seems to have disappeared there is the temptation to return to training too quickly and resume previous mileage rates. Such a temptation is a very risky strategy as the running knee pain can quickly recur and the rest period will have been wasted. A gradual return to running at a slower speed will boost confidence and full training will soon be attainable.
Rest is not the only cure for running knee injury as several other factors are worth consideration…
- Using ice particularly on a swollen knee (usually the symptom of a more serious problem). Treatment should be for up to 30 minutes at a time several times a day for a few days.
- Knee supports often alleviate the pressure on the joint. Elastic bandages are especially useful.
- When sitting in the house raise the knee on a stool or equivalent. Otherwise the joint may be bent with the foot on the floor which does not help with the recuperation procedure.
- Pain killers are often used especially when seeking advice from a doctor. Tablets may remove the inflammation, but also tend to mask the pain rather than curing it.
- Try fitting arch supports into the running shoes, especially for those runners with flat feet. More importantly, there are many shoes on the market which offer extra stability and cushioning and sometimes when running with such shoes, a general feeling of floating on air is experienced.
- Stretching and strength exercises are another excellent way of preparing the knee for a training session. Some runners have also resorted to the various postures associated with yoga as a means of curing ‘runners knee’.
Should all these measures fail, the only cure may be a visit to the doctor and possible surgery which would lead to an enforced absence from running of several weeks or months. Ensure that the doctor is experienced with sports injuries as the average neighbourhood doctor is more likely to deal with localised medical complaints and therefore make reference to a specialist.
In a summary of the causes, preventions and cures for running knee injury, journalist Paul Scott suggests the simple logic of overuse as the main culprit for causing the injury and for preventing a swift cure. Sports doctors will offer advice on how to rectify the problem, but not everybody has the patience to follow the procedures. Training programs have to be maintained and knee injuries are just a constant source of irritation both physically and mentally.
The lesson to be learned from knee pain is to listen to your body. At the slightest twinge it is always best to take remedial action. One days rest can prevent the need for several days rest later and potentially long term damage. Knee injuries can be very serious and basic tasks of walking up and down the staircase can be very problematical.
Running knee pain must be carefully managed and respected.