By Heather Ebright – Certified Pilates Instructor and Avid Runner
Do you feel pain in your knee during or after your run or workout? Does the pain get worse when you walk down stairs or hills?
If so, you might have a case of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome, commonly known as Runners Knee. As the name suggests, Runners Knee is one of the most common injuries that runners experience, although it can affect any athlete that engages in repetitive knee bending, such as climbers, hikers, and cyclists. If you do any activity that requires bending of the knee, you might be at risk for developing Runners Knee or a more serious knee injury. If you’re in marathon training mode and ramping up miles according to your training schedule, you should be especially on guard for niggly knee pain. Maybe you’re already feeling some pain and praying it doesn’t develop into anything more so you can continue with your marathon training.
For many years runner’s knee was considered to be a direct result of softening of the cartilage of the kneecap, but current research proves that poor running mechanics are the real cause of Runners Knee.
When healthy, injury-free runners are in neutral alignment, the leg absorbs shock with every step. However, poor alignment results for MANY runners because the repeated back-and-forth, limited range of motion involved in running not surprisingly weakens all the core muscles surrounding your legs and hips. Without the lateral side-to-side movement that would naturally strengthen your core, your trunk loses its natural stabilizer muscles and your core wears away little by little. Weak core leads to unstable pelvis which inevitably leads to misalignment of your legs. The alignment then causes imbalanced wear and tear on the knee joint, resulting in pain, injury, and possibly the end of your running career!
You might think that strengthening and stretching the legs would be the right approach to relieving knee pain. However the very TOP way to cure Runners Knee is to train the core muscle groups of the pelvis. The goal is to maintain good form during running, reduce loads to your joints, and eliminate any further breakdown of your tissue.
Other forms of therapy such as IT Band stretches and massage might also be helpful in relieving symptoms, but improving core strength and achieving proper alignment is the most effective and only sustainable way to relieve Runners Knee for good!
I’ve developed a unique training program for runners and any athlete who suffers from knee pain, a discrete set of proven core exercises that have been shown to accurately identify your muscle imbalances, prevent and cure pain, and — then improve performance in runners. Because of what is definitionally involved in running, ALL runners, regardless of performance and training level, are highly susceptible to repetitive motion and impact injuries. ALL runners need to strengthen to be able to enjoy running.
Many runners with knee pain simply don’t prepare for the worst-case scenario when it comes to possible injury. By the time you’ve realized that you’re injured and in need of a new training routine, your performance has already suffered greatly and you’re in a lot of unnecessary pain. Don’t wait until you must stop running completely before seeking help!
If you’re in the process of training for a marathon, it’s so important to accept and embrace a strengthening regimen as part of your training schedule. Consider this: during an average one-mile run, your foot strikes the ground 1,000 times. So during one “peak” training run of 20-miles, your foot strikes the ground 20,000 times. And the the force of impact on the foot is 3 to 4 times your weight! So during one peak training run, your foot is striking the ground 20,000 times with the force of 3-4 times your body weight. Your marathon training probably includes 3 of these peak 20-mile runs, so the numbers just continue to pile up. For each ‘landing’, your core muscles have to be strong enough to land foot on the ground in a strong, aligned way — or you’re bound to feel the knee, hip, or hamstring pain that plague so many of us.
Remember – it’s actually not about leg muscle strength. Your training more than adequately covers that. In fact, it’s just the opposite: you’re most likely overly repeating the front-and-back motion of running while the rest of your surrounding muscles which laterally stabilize — and are SO important to safely landing each step — just continue to atrophy. This pattern is no surprise because by definition, running is a forward-and-back motion. That’s why the injuries that plague runners are common and predictable.
If you’re already injured and struggling with Runners Knee, take action and get to the root cause of your injury. Don’t waste time and money dabbling on superficially alleviating the pain. Instead, know that your injury can be cured by targeting the specific muscle deficiencies causing it — and can be done so very quickly!
To find out about special strengthening techniques designed to get you running without pain and even faster, check out my book on strongrunning.com. In it, you’ll find out how you can cure your Runners Knee and become a stronger, faster runner with just a few simple exercises involving no equipment or down-time — just some honest work in strengthening yourself.