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Runner’s Knee – What Is It, Why It Happens, And How To Avoid It

12 May 2020 | Runners injuries, New runners

When I decided to take up running all I could think of was my exciting new hobby, the ‘new me’, the wealth of health benefits which I would reap by running in the parks, carefree and healthy with a newly sculpted fabulous body moving majestically at blinding speeds.

Alright, maybe not blinding speeds but certainly faster and with more grace than my then lazy walking shuffle.

I never, not once, thought of injuries or any discomfort. And why should I, right? I believed that injuries were reserved for the pros who go and push themselves to the limit –  why should a recreational runner be concerned about running injuries such as The Runner’s Knee?

So, What is The Runner’s Knee?

Simply put, it’s a common injury that plagues many a runner at some stage and for various reasons. With me it happened right at the start, I found out very quickly.

My Opening Run

I will never forget my first run and how awkward it was. I was unfit, the body was creaking, nothing felt fine. For some reason I thought that being naturally slim was enough to conquer those park routes.

I had no idea what to do, no plan, no structure. I decided to go running for 30 minutes but ended up stopping way earlier, gasping for air. Everything felt painful and the run was generally poor. I went home embarrassed.

The Morning After the Run

I remember feeling a distant and strange pain sensation somewhere in the left knee when I bent down to put the shoe on. I dismissed it as a sign of a good workout, I must be onto something good, what else could it be. Then I went to the park and tried to run for 30 minutes again.

That second run felt better. I couldn’t feel any discomfort in the knee so I thought all was turning out perfectly fine, as it should. How little did I know…

A Few Days Later

I was still running. Only one break between four runs. The aching pain in the knee returned but I figured the legs would get stronger in time, that’s just an inevitable process, something I had to get through but there were other discomforts as well.

My feet also hurt, my hips didn’t feel right, my posture was all over the place with arms flapping around like trees in the wind trying to keep balance so I didn’t topple over. Something simply wasn’t right.

Week 2, Day 3

Again, I decided to run for 30 minutes but the knee at that stage hurt openly even when I got to the park and out of the car.

The ‘run’ was a struggle and after 27 minutes the knee forced me to stop. It felt like a weird cramp, I pushed my arms against a tree and tried to stretch but the pain was now officially ‘on’ and active. It didn’t take a genius to figure out how something went where it shouldn’t have gone.

By the time I went to bed that evening the knee was red and looking slightly puffed up, the skin over it tender.

Doctor and RICE Time

In the morning I rang the nearest osteopath and explained that my knee was not good for walking. It had increased in size and was now hurting fine and proper. I needed painkillers to bring the pain down to a bearable level and I knew even before I visited the surgery that my running would be put on hold for some time.

Once there, my fears were confirmed, I got injured badly.

As the osteopath spoke to me at first I misunderstood and thought that she was instructing me to increase the amount of rice in my diet – but it turned out that ‘that’ RICE actually stood for Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation instead.

Yep, I could eat more rice if I wanted to but I would have to practice RICE as well. I had to rest up and avoid any repetitive stress on the hurt knee (no running for a while). Ice packet was meant to help reduce the swelling and pain. I would have to compress the knee by wrapping it gently with an elastic band to restrict the swelling area and elevate it when sitting or lying in bed by putting a pillow underneath it in order to prevent further swelling. Great fun all around.

With patience and exercises I was back to running in 8 weeks.

But HOW Did I Hurt My Knee When Running? What Should I Have Done Differently to Prevent That runner’s Knee Injury?

Now I know that I should have done my research. I should have asked questions rather than just going for it blindly. Now I know that a great deal of new runners experience unnecessary injuries, injuries that may have been prevented, including the runner’s knee.

I should have researched how to start running and started with:

Proper running shoes

The most important part of your kit. You don’t need an expensive coat and hat to run in the park, but you will need a pair of perfectly fitting running shoes.

I bought mine cheaply, wanted them black so they would match with my outfit (I know, I know…..).

My flat feet needed good support in insoles but I asked for no insoles, and none I surely got. Hence the reason it felt awkward to run from the go. I fixed that once the knee healed by visiting a gait analysis running shop, where I found my perfect pair with custom cut insoles fitted in. No more out of balance, uncomfortable running!

Stretching and Strength Exercises

Although I am naturally slim, I forgot that I was a 52 year old physically completely inactive guy, slim or not. My hips, thighs, shins, my core muscles were all dormant and in for a shock of their lives, completely unprepared for what was coming to hit them.

I was out of sync, out of balance, regularly dehydrated with no support given to those ageing knees. What happened was inevitable. That runner’s knee was inevitable.

Now I stretch daily for at least an hour at a time working on different muscle groups, listening to my body and hydrating properly by sipping water throughout a day.

I still do exercises as recommended by my osteopath and found lots more that I like on YouTube. Try them!

Find a Plan And Stick With The Plan

I had no plan at all.  None. Zero Good Plan.

After the knee injury I started following a great guide for absolute beginners in Couch To 5K. You need to start small and develop gradually over time.

I didn’t. I started fully unprepared with 30 minute runs and ran as fast and hard as I could, sending massive force to my weak, unsupportive knees. All could have been avoided with some quick research and a good plan.

And Finally….

Learn to run by correctly adapting your posture. Try and run as straight as you can. Don’t lean too far back or forwards.

Reduce overstriding because the impact on the knees becomes greater if you do. Keep your feet closer to the ground and aligned with your head at the point of impact.

Don’t rush, take it slow and easy, you are not training for the Olympic trials. Relax and don’t compare yourself to others. Run at your own comfortable tempo and your knees will be grateful and carry you far longer than you ever hoped for!

Simple things like good research can be priceless when it comes to saving us from the potential injury sorrow. Finding out what is good for you and what suits you best will make a whole lot of good, positive and valuable differences in the times ahead, making your running as enjoyable as it should and can be.

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