I LOVE to run. Running, jogging, whatever you want to call it, I love it. It clears my head and gives me 'ME' time. As a stay at home mom with 3 kids under 5, I need some "ME" time now and again!
Only problem is, I was NOT 'BORN TO RUN'. I am not built like a long distance runner, but I love to run for long distances. As I have done more and more races (5k, 10k, half marathons), I have learned though to love the shorter runs. The shorter training runs that don't kill my legs, and put undue pressure on my knees. The other half of the problem is that I DON'T stretch enough. TOTALLY my fault, but it can take it's toll on my joints. I will stretch a couple minutes after a run, but that's it. Next thing I know, my butt hurts, my hamstrings are tight and that dang 'knee' problem comes back to bite me in the booty!
Runner's knee, or Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)
, is one of the most common knee injuries to runner's. It is caused by irritation on the underside of the knee cap (patella). This bone moves up and down the femoral groove as we bend and straighten our knee. The quadriceps muscle (thigh muscle) runs on top the knee cap and as this muscle tightens (when we bend our knees), it places increased pressure on the patella, pushing it into the femoral groove. Over time, this pressure combined with the movement of the patella can cause wear and tear to the bones, resulting in pain and inflammation. This process can be expedited by imbalances in flexibility and strength of both the ligaments and tendons that attach to the patella. As these structures pull on patella unevenly, it does not sit perfectly in the femoral groove, causing uneven pressure in the joint.(1)
I have seen an Orthopedic surgeon over 3 times with the same problem, and each time he tells me the same thing, 'IT's PFPS'. The main pain/discomfort is right below the kneecap, and is aggravated by running, going up and down steps, squatting, jumping, etc. Anytime where there is knee flexion. I can also feel it while I sit down and don't move for a while, my knee it will ache and throb. I once did 3 months of the program Insanity, and with all the jumping and plyometrics, my knee problem also flared up again!
The issue with PFPS, is that there really is no abnormality structurally with this knee injury. You can do all the imaging associated with PFPS, but what orthopedics are really focusing on is the pain itself and how to treat it. Most always you will be advised to rest. Avoid doing anything that causes the knee to hurt. Easy right? Not so much. When my knee starts to act up, it can come out of nowhere. I could run 45 minutes and be fine, then come home and be bend down to tie my daughters shoe and when I get up, it strikes. Then the dreaded going up and down the stairs sets in. Pain.
As I mentioned, while doing Insanity, my knee started to act up. I realized I needed to modify my full squats and lunges. I started to do plie squats that helped alleviate the pain. As a runner, if/when it acts up, I reduce mileage and cross-train. I will also keep in mind to strike the ground mid-foot versus heal striking. This has been shown to help alleviate the pain since your stride will be shorter and you will land underneath your hips, versus out in front where there is more strike trauma. I also ice my knee as well as take ibuprofen. As far as therapy and exercises for runner's knee, I have found that trying to correct my patella tracking is number one, along with strengthening my quads and working on the tightness of my surrounding muscles. Soft tissue massage with my foam roller works amazing as well!
Along the way, I have found a few exercises, stretches and bracing/taping to help. I have included them below. After following these strategies (especially the first two videos below under 'stretches'), I went from knee pain to running pain free in 2 days!
Great Stretches for Runner's Knee (PFPS)
Knee Taping for PFPS
Unilateral Movements and Progressions to Strengthen the Knee
(Listen to your body and rest when you need. Everyone's pain threshold is different. I have known athletes who have run half marathon's with a torn meniscus, and had no idea that the pain they were feeling was from that. Another might buckle in the first few minutes of a run. If you think something's not right, always get an expert's opinion before treating.)
Featured Image Photo Credit: www.shutterstock.com
(1) Reference: http://manhattanpainandpt.com/knees-hurt-pfps-seek-help-nyc-physical-therapist-today/