Running knee pain: What lockdown taught us about injury prevention
Dodgy knee flaring up after lockdown? You’re not alone. Knee pain is a common injury from running and walking, and lockdown has given many of our patients a reminder about the importance of progressive load management plans.
If there was something positive that came out of lockdown for many of us, it was motivation to get outdoors to move our bodies, get fresh air and manage our mental health.
With few options for exercise, there was an increase in people hitting the pavement for walking and running cardio exercise. Some were regular gym-goers who suddenly had to find an alternative option for keeping up with a fitness routine. Others were those who wanted to use ‘essential exercise’ as an excuse to escape lockdown-induced cabin fever. While some decided to make use of the time and space to kickstart some new healthy routines.
What came with it, though, was an increase in injuries as people suddenly expected their bodies to move and bear weight in ways they hadn’t asked it to in some time. Injuries like plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, tendon pain and, in particular, knee pain, were common concerns we saw popping up in our tele-health and post-lockdown appointments.
While we’re big advocates for including more exercise in your day, lockdown exercise highlighted the importance of understanding progressive load management strategies to avoid the consequences of overload from running. Us Kiwis tend to take a rip, sh!t or bust approach to sport and exercise. But while the point of exercise is to put your body under some level of manageable stress, sudden and unrealistic expectations can push it to limits it’s just not prepared for.
Runner’s knee is a term often used to describe pain around the kneecap (patella). Pain might be felt when walking, running, using stairs, squatting, kneeling, sitting down or standing up. Overuse, too much intensity or distance, or terrain changes can all cause issues with the knee. But injuries from running happen not necessarily because of the running, but because of a lack of commitment to the things that support your running.
As physios, our job is to not just help with injury recover, but injury prevention. So, here are some tips to help you avoid knee pain when running:
Just running alone won’t make you a better runner. Strength and conditioning work will help build strength in the muscles around your knees to best support a stable and strong gait, reduce impact and pressure on your joints and help your knees withstand the repetitive contractions from running.
Incorporate exercises like these twice a week to complement your run training programme:
Single leg deadlift
That old pair of trainers you pulled out of the wardrobe over lockdown probably didn’t do you any favours. If you’re serious about committing to walking or running for fitness, an investment in the right shoes for your feet is a must. You don’t drive your car with your wheels out of alignment; the same goes for your knees. A simple gait check can give an indication of what kind of shoe (or orthotic insert) will give you the best support and stability for your knees, hips and back. Our physios here at Refine Health to support you if you’re keen for some expert advice.
Runners are notoriously bad at committing to stretching, but increasing flexibility is an important part of avoiding injury. Make time to stretch, use a foam roller or practice yoga or pilates. Scheduling regular massages can also aid recovery and help prevent muscular dysfunction.
Important stretches to incorporate into your exercise include:
Hip flexor stretch
Give yourself space for recovery
The urge to escape the four walls of your home was likely impetus to commit to daily exercise during lockdown. And while your efforts were virtuous, it could actually have done you more harm than good. It can be tempting to rack up the miles when you’re on a roll, but recovery is as much a part of a good training programme as your actual running. Training causes (a good kind of) damage to your body tissue. Your rest or recovery run days are an opportunity for that damage to heal, strengthening your body in the process and reducing the likelihood of injury.
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Here at the clinic we offer a Run Smart package, which is designed to help you run at your optimum efficiency. We’ll take a look at your technique and provide you with drills and strength exercises to help you run with ease, and importantly, without injury.
So, if you’re guilty of rushing into a running programme during lockdown and you’re paying the price with knee pain, give these tips a go. While our physio services are here to support you in overcoming injury, we’d much rather see you taking steps towards a smart and strong plan for long-term progress!