One of the most common afflictions experienced by runners is soreness or injury to the knee. “Runner’s knee,” commonly categorized as pain around the patella or kneecap, is the most frequent overuse injury among joggers and runners. According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, (NCBI), “the predominant site of leg injuries (among runners) is the knee.” For this reason, running is considered to be a high-injury sport and is often blamed for knee aches.
However, don’t throw out your running shoes just yet. Running itself doesn’t automatically cause you widespread pain. It’s how you run that can lead to injury or knee pain. If you run correctly, implement a few simple techniques and make healthy lifestyle choices, you’ll be ready to take on long distances without sacrificing those important joints.
If your knees take a lot of abuse when you’re out on the trail, here are six simple ways to prevent those types of injuries in the future.
Wear the Right Accessories and Check Your Form
When you wear the wrong kind of shoes for running, you can develop problems that lead to runner’s knee or other physical ailments. Instead, use shoes with inserts if you experience pain. Also, make sure your running shoes have proper support. Get a new pair of shoes once your old ones lose their grip or the sole becomes worn and flimsy. Taking care of your knees is vital if you wish to continue running long-term.
Still, the best running gear in the world won’t help you if you’re not running properly. Therefore, it’s important to examine your form and ensure that you’re not subjecting yourself to unnecessary injury. Maintain forward posture, land softly with bent knees, and run with shorter strides to reduce the impact against your feet and knees.
Other solutions for runners who suffer from knee pain are knee bands and knee straps. Lightweight knee braces provide targeted pressure on your knees to help you reduce pain and continue running without being weighed down. Many runners stand by the use of knee braces when they work out because they help stabilize targeted areas of the body and act as a protective layer. If your pain persists, however, ask your primary doctor what the best course of action is for you.
Don’t Heel Strike
Many runners want to outpace their last run distance. While challenging yourself can be a great way to have fun during your workout and meet your goals, you can ultimately wear yourself down. Try not to over-stride or step past your knees. When you swing your legs, push them toward the rear. When you move your feet in front of your knees with every stride, you leave yourself vulnerable to injury.
Your knees aren’t designed to take extended pressure shocks. If you strike your heels and your knees hurt, listen to your body and change your stride. Lean your entire body forward including your ankles, and let your feet land directly beneath you rather than in front of you.
Avoid Lifting Your Knees Too High
Many athletes will tell you that lifting your knees can help you achieve a longer stride. But that mechanism is best suited for those who sprint, not for those looking to run longer than a mile or two. When you lift your knees, your feet are elevated higher. This means when they hit the ground in front of your body, you will be creating a greater impact on your knees.
Instead, keep your knees moving low during each stride. Think to yourself, “Am I running with my heels up and knees down?” If you keep this in mind, you should be able to avoid needless injuries while you run. Lifting your knees too high in front of you can result in pain. Practice high-knee exercises in place, not during extended running periods.
Aim Your Feet in Your Running Direction
Always run with your feet facing directly forward. If they’re facing any other direction, your ankles will twist with each stride. It’s not difficult to see how this would lead to injury. Make sure to keep your feet parallel as well. This way, your knees will hinge in the proper direction and help you to maintain the proper form. Remember to give your body the time it needs to adjust to the movement and direction you move it in as you run.
Try Strength Training and Stretching
While poor or excessive strength training can lead to further injuries like hernias, proper strength training can help you prevent knee injuries and other kinds of overuse pain. According to a study conducted by the Journal of Athletic Training, nearly 80 percent of runners who strength-trained their core, hips, knees, and thighs reported reduced knee pain. So, to best avoid added pain, try strength training that targets your lower body or exercises that help stabilize your knee muscles, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and hips.
Stretching is a great way to prevent pain. When you stretch, you can keep your muscles loose and ready to run. Also, when you properly stretch, you can protect your knees from taking on excess impact. Try a standing hamstring stretch or a quad stretch. Whatever stretch you choose, make sure you do it before you work out.
Maintain Your Weight
Many runners suffer from runner’s knee and other joint pain, which doesn’t come as a surprise considering that over 93 million adults in America are obese. Carrying extra pounds as you run increases the pressure on your knees, which can lead to chronic pain and other complications. If you’re overweight or obese, you shouldn’t avoid exercise just because you don’t want to strain your knees. Instead, create a workout regimen that will help you lose fat. Try walking an hour per day or drinking plenty of water.
When you exercise regularly without overstraining yourself, you can lessen knee pain due to obesity. Therefore, it’s helpful to strengthen your knee muscles and exercise regularly so that you can maintain a healthy weight. What is a healthy weight? A healthy weight is one that is appropriate for your age and size. Always consult with your doctor regarding your weight and your overall health.
It’s important to take good care of your knees and your body, especially if you want to continue running throughout your life. Reducing your impact, wearing the right shoes or knee braces, strengthening your muscles, and maintaining a healthy diet and holistic lifestyle should lessen your chances of developing further knee pain. By implementing simple changes to your running routine, you can prevent worse issues down the road.